NAD Recommends AT&T Modify, Discontinue Certain Reliability Claims for its Services, Finds Certain Claims Supported; AT&T to Appeal

New York, NY –March 4, 2019– The National Advertising Division has recommended that AT&T Services, Inc. modify or discontinue claims that its services deliver 99% reliability following a challenge by Charter Communications, Inc.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The challenged claims included, but were not limited to:

Express Claims:

  • “Life is too short for unreliable entertainment. Get AT&T Internet and DIRECTV with over 99% reliability for $65 a month for one year . . .”
  • “My life is a browser with 25 open tabs. I’m monitoring a lot of situations. I admit, I have kind of a constantly plugged in thing. Any interruption of current events, weather apps or yoga schedules could jeopardize the whole operation. Hence, I get my internet service from AT&T. For only $30 a month I maintain a reliable connection of new movie trailers, ex-boyfriends’ vacation pictures with who they’re currently dating, trash talking my old college roommate on a word search game. Frankly, it’s soothing to know AT&T Internet is so, reliable. It, it helps me maintain my, low stress thing. Get AT&T Internet with over 99% reliability for only $30 a month with no extra monthly fees.”
  • “Get AT&T Internet with over 99% reliability for $30 a month”
  • “Get 99% Reliable Internet and DIRECTV. Don’t be dropped by unreliable internet. Get DIRECTV + AT&T Internet $65/mo. + taxes.”
  • “More guru fewer glitches with AT&T Internet. Get AT&T Internet $30/mo. + taxes.”
  • “High-speed internet with 99% reliability so you’re always connected.”
  • “Stream, download, connect all the time.”
  • “Internet with no interruptions.”

Implied Claims:

  • Every tier of AT&T Internet service is more than 99% reliable.
  • Every tier of AT&T Internet service is capable of streaming video, including live video, over 99% of the time without interruption.
  • AT&T Internet is more reliable than internet service from AT&T’s competitors, including Charter.
  • AT&T Internet is more reliable than internet service from AT&T’s competitors, including Charter, with respect to streaming video without interruptions.
  • AT&T’s DIRECTV television service is more reliable than television service from AT&T’s competitors, including Charter.
  • Television and internet service from AT&T’s competitors, including Charter, is unreliable and prone to unpredictable outages at inopportune times.

Charter contended that certain AT&T television, internet, and radio advertisements conveyed the message that AT&T’s internet and television services are more reliable than competitors’ services, including Charter’s.

AT&T argued that its television, internet, and radio advertisements do not convey a comparative message, noting the absence of any named competitor in its ads. However, NAD found that one message reasonably conveyed by some of the challenged advertisements is that AT&T’s subscribers avoid the pain of unreliability they might experience with competing providers—a comparative claim that NAD determined was unsupported and recommended be discontinued. With respect to AT&T’s Facebook and radio advertising, NAD agreed with the advertiser that a monadic message was conveyed.

NAD further concluded that consumers could reasonably take away the unsupported message that claims about “AT&T Internet” refer to all AT&T internet service – regardless of which tier is available to them.

NAD also concluded that the challenged advertisements constituted line claims for all of AT&T’s internet services including its DSL service. However, AT&T did not submit data showing that its DSL service delivers 99% reliability. NAD was persuaded that a sufficient portion of consumers in the markets in which the challenged television advertising appeared had DSL as their only available AT&T internet option.  As a result, NAD concluded, its DSL service was not such a small service offering that it was not material.

NAD also evaluated the substantiation by the advertiser for its claims that AT&T’s internet services are 99% reliable. Upon review of the advertiser’s evidence, NAD recommended that the challenged AT&T “99% reliability” and related implied claims be discontinued.

Notwithstanding these recommendations, NAD recognized the significant investments AT&T has made to improve services offered to consumers and noted that AT&T can highlight the reliability of its service as long as does so in a truthful and accurate manner, and without making unsupported claims that competing service providers are unreliable.

AT&T, in its advertiser’s statement, said it would appeal NAD’s decision, in particular NAD’s findings that its claim that “AT&T Internet is more than 99% reliable” is not substantiated, that its advertising reasonably communicates a message about AT&T’s DSL service, and that the challenged advertising conveys a comparative message about competing cable providers, including Charter.

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.