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BT allowed to advertise superfast FTTC as ‘fibre optic’ broadband

BT is allowed to advertise its superfast broadband products as ‘fibre optic’ services, according to the ASA. 

Customers complaining to the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) took issue with the fact that BT was advertising its Infinity products as ‘fibre optic’. 

BT Infinity 1 and 2 are FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet)-based services that provide top download speeds of 38Mbps and 76Mbps. 

BT allowed to advertise superfast FTTC as 'fibre optic' broadband
When is fibre broadband not fibre broadband? When the ASA says so.

FTTC connections are a mixture of optical fibre and twisted copper pairs – as the name implies, a fibre optic link runs from the nearby telephone exchange to a green street cabinet and from there, an old-style copper line connects that to the customer’s home. 

Because of this, complainants objected to the term ‘fibre optic’ as the BT’s packages in question are not FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) services, where the connection between the exchange and the premises is pure fibre. 

BT told the ASA that its Openreach network made FTTC and FTTP broadband available to 19.8 million premises in the UK, of which a fraction could get FTTP. Because of the low presence of FTTP, BT considered it ‘extremely unlikely’ that consumers would expect that a service promoted as fibre optic was FTTP.

An ASA spokesperson said: “We considered that consumers who might be interested in “fibre optic” broadband of one sort or another would primarily be concerned with the improved speed and performance which could be delivered in comparison to an ADSL connection, and the cost at which that service could be obtained, rather than being concerned with obtaining the most technologically advanced fibre optic product available at any cost. 

“We therefore considered the use of the term “fibre optic” to denote a broadband connection which primarily comprised fibre optic cable whilst including non-fibre optic cable as a small proportion of the overall connection was unlikely to mislead the average consumer.” 

Read our interview with Hyperoptic’s managing director Dana Tobak: “At some point everyone will be on a fibre connection”Boris Ivanovic, chairman of Hyperoptic, isn’t impressed. Hyperoptic exclusively supplies FTTP services and Ivanovic says that the decision is anti-competitive and will lead to customer confusion. 

“There is a fundamental difference between FTTC and ‘fibre’ broadband,” Ivanovic said. 

“FTTC broadband is still delivered over copper, which is why the service is unreliable, distance-dependent and subject to peak-time slowdowns. With true Fibre to the Home broadband, speeds are faster, symmetric and reliable. The products and consumer experiences are completely different.” 

FTTC lines from BT’s network currently provide top download and upload speeds of 80Mbps and 20Mbps. The actual speeds you get depend greatly on your proximity to the cabinet. The further away you are from the cabinet, the slower your speeds will be. 

Speeds on FTTP connections by contrast don’t degrade over distance and can offer faster download speeds. BT’s own FTTP product currently provides download speeds of 330Mbps and uploads of 30Mbps while Hyperoptic’s top level service delivers download and upload speeds of 1Gbps (1,000Mbps). 

“Allowing this confusion to continue is also anti-competitive and detrimental to the providers that are offering Fibre to the Home broadband services,” Ivanovic added. “There are a number of providers, including Hyperoptic, who are now offering true fibre services – differentiating the product and educating consumers is nigh-impossible when the industry monopoly is allowed to confuse the market.” 

BT: ‘We have the biggest FTTP footprint in the UK’

Other companies that offer gigabit FTTP broadband include CityFibre, which offers services in a number of UK towns and cities and Gigaclear, which focusses on delivering gigabit broadband to rural not spots. Grassroots projects Fibre GarDen, B4RN and B4YS are getting on with the business of connecting remote communities to next-gen full fibre services. 

A BT spokesperson reiterated that BT wasn’t eschewing FTTP in favour of FTTC. The spokesperson said:  “It’s true that BT prioritised reaching as many homes and businesses as possible, as quickly as possible by focussing on Fibre to the Cabinet technology.” 

“We have also brought Fibre to the Premises footprint to over 160,000 premises and we offer a ‘fibre on demand’ FTTP service to those who want more speed in FTTC areas.” 

The spokesperson added that BT’s current FTTP footprint covers over 160,000 premises. Hyperoptic’s FTTP footprint currently covers 75,000 premises and B4RN recently connected its 600th customer

FTTP from BT is currently available to customers connected to a select number of exchanges and prices start from £35/month for a 160Mbps service. 

The ‘fibre on demand’ service, where you can pay to convert an FTTC line to FTTP, is not quite so generously priced. BT has already hiked the cost once and one would-be customer has described the pricing model as ‘the economics of the madhouse’. 

Update: BT originally informed us that its FTTP footprint spanned 250,000 properties. The actual figure is 160,000 and our piece has been updated to reflect this. 

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