NAD Recommends AT&T Modify Claims Regarding Availability of ‘AT&T Fiber,’ Both Advertiser, Challenger to Appeal

New York, NY – Oct. 19, 2017  – The National Advertising Division has recommended that AT&T Services, Inc., modify advertising to clarify for consumers the availability of AT&T Fiber, the company’s fiber-to-the-home product. AT&T said it will appeal that adverse finding to the National Advertising Review Board.

AT&T’s advertising claims were challenged by Charter Communications, Inc., which also intends to appeal two NAD findings.

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 claims challenged by Charter included:

  • “With internet this fast, it must be the future.”
  • “Internet speeds twenty times faster. Introducing AT&T Fiber.”
  • “Cities available now.”
  • “Speeds 20x faster than the average cable customer.”
  • “AT&T Fiber delivers internet starting with a 1000 Mbps connection.”
  • “AT&T has the largest fiber network.”
  • “Internet 1000”

NAD also considered whether the advertising at issue implied that AT&T has upgraded all, or substantially all, of its network to deliver fiber-to-the-home internet services or that AT&T Fiber is available to most customers in the areas where AT&T offers home internet service,

is available to most customers in each of the cities identified on AT&T’s AT&T Fiber coverage map,  includes a tier of service with download speeds up to 1000 Mbps or offers speeds that are 20 times faster than what cable ISPs offer.

AT&T contended that consumers understand that AT&T Fiber has limited availability because it is advertised with qualifying language like, “Coming Soon” and “Introducing,” to disclose that the service is limited.  AT&T argued that its disclosures further advise consumers of the limited availability of AT&T Fiber.

NAD, as it noted in its decision, has held in previous cases that the limited availability of a service is a material fact that must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed to consumers. Given that AT&T offers internet service using other technology, the decision states, it is especially important that AT&T communicate the limited availability of its AT&T Fiber.

NAD recommended that the advertiser modify AT&T Fiber advertising so that in markets where AT&T Fiber is not widely available, the advertising makes clear that AT&T Fiber is more unavailable than available. NAD recommended that when AT&T advertises AT&T Fiber, the recommended qualifying language about the availability of its service should be made as part of the main and disclosed visually if the claim is made visually, and orally if the claim is made orally.  NAD further recommended that where AT&T advertises that AT&T Fiber is “Coming Soon,” it disclose clearly and conspicuously in close proximity to the main claim that AT&T Fiber may not be available to all consumers.

In considering the claim “largest fiber optic network,” NAD noted that the company makes the claim in the context of its advertising for AT&T Fiber, although AT&T Fiber is not the largest fiber-to-the-home network.  NAD determined that when the claim is made in advertising fiber-to-the-home, consumers could reasonably take away the unsupported message that AT&T Fiber is the largest fiber-to-the-home network. NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue the claim that it has the “largest fiber network” in the context of advertising for AT&T Fiber or modify its claim to make clear that it refers to fiber across AT&T’s network, not to its fiber-to-the-home network.

Following its review of the coverage map at AT&T’s website, NAD noted that the interactive map identifies cities where AT&T Fiber is available now and where it is “underway,” but not generally available.   NAD determined that the map, in the context in which it appears on the AT&T website, did not reasonably communicate the message that AT&T Fiber was generally available in an area designated on the map.

In evaluating whether the name “Internet 1000” was false or misleading, NAD noted that it usually requires evidence of consumer confusion to require a product name change, unless the name itself is expressly false. Here, NAD found that the name was not misleading, given that the advertiser discloses that maximum download speeds are 940 Mbps.

Finally, NAD noted that the advertiser agreed to permanently discontinue the claim “20X Faster.” NAD will treat the claim, for compliance purposes, as though NAD recommended it be discontinued and the advertiser agreed to comply.

AT&T, in its advertiser’s statement, said will appeal NAD’s determination that AT&T must separately disclose limited availability even when the advertising clearly states ‘Coming Soon.’  AT&T strongly disagrees with this recommendation because the statement ‘Coming Soon’ already clearly communicates that the advertised service is not yet available and thus, additional limited availability disclosures are unnecessary, contradictory and confusing.”

Charter, separately, said it would appeal NAD’s finding that “AT&T can advertise its AT&T Fiber services on a marketwide basis in markets where the service is not yet available to 20% (or more) of the marketplace,” and NAD’s finding that AT&T can advertise that customers will receive a “gigabit” or “1000 Mbps connection” with AT&T’s “Internet 1000” tier of service so long as it discloses that the service only delivers speeds up to 940 Mbps.

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.