AT&T called out on comparing its fiber-optic internet upload speeds to cable

July 1, 2021
The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs recommended that, in connection with comparative advertising for its fiber-optic internet service, AT&T Services modify the express claim that "all cable upload speeds are slow."
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The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs recommended that, in connection with comparative advertising for its fiber-optic internet service, AT&T Services, Inc. modify the express claim that all cable upload speeds are slow.

The independent advertising watchdog also recommended that AT&T modify the implied claim that Comcast's internet is unreliable to avoid conveying the messages that cable users are unable to video chat, upload large files, expand their businesses, or sell their homes.

NAD further recommended that AT&T modify its "better internet" and "faster internet experience" claims to avoid conveying unsupported messages. AT&T said it will appeal NAD's recommendation to modify these claims. The claims at issue, which appeared in five television commercials and one internet advertisement, were challenged by Comcast Cable Communications, Inc.

According to a NAD press release, in each of the challenged commercials, a cable user is seen unable to perform basic tasks such as videoconferencing or uploading large files. The solution is then immediately presented – switch to AT&T Fiber to solve the problem because AT&T Fiber offers faster upload speeds.

NAD determined that a reasonable takeaway from the challenged commercials is the message that Comcast's cable service is slow, unreliable, and unable to perform basic tasks such as videoconferencing and uploading large files. NAD further determined that consumers would reasonably understand these advertisements to convey the message that cable's connection issues are likely to occur often and at any time.

NAD noted that AT&T's proposed solution in the commercials only reinforces these claims with the message that switching to "better internet" – AT&T Fiber – will resolve cable's limitations because AT&T Fiber offers 20x faster upload speeds and a "faster internet experience." In this context, consumers would reasonably understand that "better internet" means faster upload speeds and freedom from the problems plaguing cable users shown in the commercials.

Further, by using the word "experience" in response to the identified problems, NAD determined the ads convey the message that consumers will experience comparatively faster upload speeds with a comparative performance benefit when videoconferencing and uploading large files.

NAD reviewed the substantiation provided by AT&T in support of its claims, which consisted of internet articles discussing the advantages of fiber over cable, mathematical support based on upload speeds, an OpenVault report regarding data usage increases in 2020, and confidential data regarding the reasons consumers switched to AT&T Fiber. NAD concluded that such evidence was not a good fit for the challenged claims and that the record did not demonstrate that the problems presented to consumers in the advertisements exist to the degree and duration suggested by the ads.

As a result, NAD recommended that AT&T modify the express claim that all cable upload speeds are slow and the implied claim that Comcast's internet is unreliable to avoid conveying the messages that cable users cannot video chat, upload large files, expand their businesses, or sell their homes.

NAD also determined that the record did not demonstrate that the solution proposed in the commercials – switching to AT&T Fiber – will solve the identified problem and result in "better internet" or a "faster internet experience."

Accordingly, NAD recommended that AT&T modify:

  • Its "better internet" claim to avoid conveying the unsupported message that cable users experience the issues depicted in the challenged ads; and
  • The claim that AT&T Fiber provides a "faster internet experience" to avoid conveying the unsupported message that cable users experience the circumstances depicted in the challenged advertising when videoconferencing or that cable speeds will cause the problems depicted in the challenged ads.

In its advertiser statement, AT&T stated that it will appeal all of NAD's decision based on its belief that (i) the ads "highlight specific, consumer-relevant instances that promote a meaningful competitive product attribute – upload speed -" that allows consumers to upload large files faster and have video calls that are "less susceptible to upload-speed-based disruptions," and (ii) in the depicted contexts, the phrases "better internet" and "faster internet experience" are "perfectly legitimate." Such appeals of NAD decisions are made to BBB National Programs' National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate-level truth-in-advertising body of BBB National Programs.

All BBB National Programs case decision summaries can be found in the organization's case decision library.       

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