NARB Recommends Comcast Discontinue Implied Claims That AT&T “Deceives” Customers, But Can Continue Its “The Most Reliable Network” Claims

New York, NY – April 01, 2019 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that Comcast Cable Communications, Inc. modify its advertising to avoid conveying the message that AT&T does not deliver the speed tier to which its customers subscribe or that AT&T deceives its customers as to said speed tier, the speed or reliability of its Internet service and the availability of AT&T Fiber.  However, NARB noted that Comcast could continue to comment in advertising on any limited availability of AT&T Fiber.  NARB also found that Comcast could continue to advertise its “most reliable network” claim provided it remains substantiated by the most available data and it includes a clear and conspicuous disclosure as to the source of its substantiation.

The advertising at issue was challenged by AT&T Services, Inc. before the National Advertising Division (NAD), an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation.

In its decision, NAD recommended that the advertiser modify its advertising in order to avoid conveying the message, express or implied, that AT&T does not deliver the speed tier that its customers subscribe to, or otherwise convey the message that AT&T is deceiving its customers regarding the speed tier that they subscribe to.  NAD also recommended that the advertiser modify its advertising so as to avoid conveying the message, express or implied, that AT&T was deceiving its customers as to the availability of AT&T Fiber – for example, by claiming that AT&T “was telling people everywhere that they could get AT&T Fiber when it’s really only available to, like, 10 percent of their customers.”  NAD noted that Comcast could advertise the limited availability of AT&T Fiber provided that it avoids conveying an unsupported message that AT&T is misleading customers about availability. NAD further recommended that Comcast discontinue the claim, express or implied, that AT&T deceives potential customers concerning the speed or reliability of its internet service. Lastly, NAD recommended that Comcast discontinue the claim that it offers the most reliable network.

Comcast appealed NAD’s recommendations to NARB.  NARB is an appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The challenged claims appeared in television and radio advertising for Comcast’s Xfinity Internet Services.  The “Internot” radio advertisement featured a disgruntled AT&T customer who laments that Internot provides provide only 10MB speed instead of the advertised 50 MB and wonders why he’s not paying 20% of the price for getting 20% of the speed. The “Seriously AT&T/Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Face The Fact/Fairy Tale Support Group” television commercials featured Greg, a fictitious AT&T salesman surrounded by fairy tale characters participating in a support group. In the first commercial, the fairy tale characters complain about Greg promising them AT&T Fiber which is only available to 10% of AT&T customers.  Pinocchio asks Greg if AT&T is “hiring” and the commercial ends with the voiceover and super asking “SERIOUSLY AT&T?” In the second commercial, Greg admits that he sold AT&T Internet “even though [he] knew it wasn’t the fastest or most reliable,” to the chagrin of the fairy tale characters, with the voiceover stating “FACE THE FACTS AT&T.”

The advertiser argued that the Internot advertisement conveyed the supported message that AT&T customers may not understand that they pay a flat fee no matter what speed they receive and that the Fairy Tale commercials humorously (but truthfully) communicate that AT&T Fiber has very limited availability and that AT&T did not have the fastest or most reliable network.

NARB agreed with NAD’s findings in part.  Specifically, the NARB found that the “Internot” commercial reasonably conveyed the unsupported implied claims that AT&T delivers a different speed tier from that to which its customers actually subscribed and that AT&T is deceiving its customers regarding the speed tier to which they actually subscribed. The Panel recommended that Comcast modify its advertising in order to avoid conveying that AT&T does not deliver the speed tier that its customers “subscribe to” or that AT&T is deceiving its customers regarding the speed tier to which they “subscribe”. The panel noted that Comcast was free to truthfully and accurately criticize AT&T’s pricing structure as described in AT&T’s advertising.

The Panel further recommended that Comcast modify its advertising to avoid conveying the unsupported express or implied message that AT&T is deceiving its customers everywhere as to the availability of AT&T Fiber.  Comcast is free to advertise AT&T Fiber’s limited availability provided it avoids conveying an unsupported message that AT&T is misleading customers about availability.

The Panel also found that the advertising reasonably conveyed the unsubstantiated implied claims that the AT&T salesman was not telling the truth when he told AT&T customers that AT&T’s Internet service was fastest or most reliable.  The Panel recommended Comcast modify its advertising to avoid conveying the express or implied message that AT&T deceives customers about the speed or reliability of its Internet service.

However, the Panel disagreed with NAD regarding the claim that Comcast/Xfinity offers the “most reliable network.” The Panel found no information in the record contradicted the 2016 FCC Report upon which Comcast based its “most reliable network” claim.  While Comcast can continue to claim that Comcast/Xfinity offers the “most reliable network,” it may only do so if the claim is substantiated by the most available data and is qualified with a clear and conspicuous disclosure as to the source and date of the source serving as substantiation for its claim.

Comcast, in its advertiser’s statement, “thanks NARB for its review and will comply with the panel’s recommendations.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD or NARB 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.