I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about Virgin Media’s Advertising of its broadband internet as being delivered over Fibre Optic Cables, on the straight forward grounds that it is not. The ASA rejected my complaint, so I appealed to the Independent Reviewer of Advertising Standards Authority Adjudications, Sir John Caines, my letter to him is reproduced below:
I would like you to review the ASA’s response to my complaint reference: A08-51975
In response to my complaint the ASA did two things:
- Refused to investigate it on the basis it was similar to case reference: A07-32907.
- Sent me a copy of their adjudication on case A07-32907, which suggested to me this adjudication represented the ASAs response to my complaint, along with those of the original complainants.
I contend therefore that the ASA are claiming that their adjudication on case A07-32907 is also their response to my complaint, A08-51975, and so I am entitled to request this review.
I believe there is a substantial flaw in the ASA’s adjudication of case A07-32907 as:
- There is no evidence that the ASA is aware that fibre optic to the home services are available elsewhere in the world and are planned for the UK*. I believe Virgin Media’s statement that their broadband is “delivered via a fibre optic cable” could be confused with fibre optic to the home services. If the ASA in making their adjudication were not aware of such services then they could not have fairly judged if the Virgin Media adverts were likely to mislead.
- The ASA adjudication appears to treat the statements of members of the public with an inappropriate degree of contempt, the document repeatedly contains phrases such as: “the complainant … believed that the delivery of broadband from the street into the home used metal co-axial cable and not fibre optic cable”. I object as such statements are a matter of verifiable fact, agreed by Virgin Media and not a matter of belief.
- I see no evidence the ASA has the internal expertise, or has consulted appropriate experts on the subject matter of the complaint, they do not appear to appreciate that fibre optic to the home provides a completely different level of service to that which Virgin Media are offering.
Since the adjudication of A07-32907 I believe the ASA has given Virgin Media essentially a “license to lie” about the nature of their broadband service. From my perspective it appears this has resulted in Virgin Media stepping up their campaign making the claim that they deliver their broadband internet via fibre optic cables, both via direct mail (the subject of my complaint ref. A08-51975) and most recently a full page advert in the Sunday Times, (Page 20 of the main section on the 24th February 2008). The scale and brazenness of Virgin’s subsequent lies were obviously not available at the time of the initial investigation.
I would like to note that the adjudication of case A07-32907 refers to media types of Media: Radio, Poster and National Press, and not Direct Mail which was the subject of my complaint A08-51975.
I believe this is matter of national importance. How are we going to get a true broadband Britain that is internationally competitive and supportive of the country’s aspirations to remain a leader in the “knowledge economy” if the broadband suppliers are able to lie to their consumers and tell them we already have it? I think it would be really worth ensuring Virgin Media do not lie about claiming their broadband internet service is delivered via fibre optic cables when it is not.
I am not engaged in, or contemplating, legal action against Virgin Media Ltd.
*BT Openreach, Land Securities and British Sky Broadcasting are considering deploying a fibre optic to the home network in the Ebbsfleet Valley due in August 2008
Update: My appeal was rejected as it was both out of time (with respect to the original complaint I had no part in), and I was not considered an “original complainant”. I had pre-empted and argued against these reasons to dismiss my appeal in my initial letter. I have also been pursuing the matter via my MP and with Trading Standards.