October 25th, 2017
“With AT&T Fiber, the future is here,” a clone tells a couple streaming a video on a laptop in this commercial for the telecom giant’s new internet service, which is said to deliver “speeds like never before.”
But for the majority of consumers, a future in which they can actually sign up for AT&T Fiber will have to wait, if it even comes at all.
That’s due to the fact that, at present, AT&T Fiber is more unavailable than available — a fact that NAD recently found was not made clear in a bevy of TV commercials, billboards, and online banner ads for the internet service, including the one above.
While fine print at the end of the futuristic commercial discloses that there’s “[l]imited availability in select areas” and advises viewers to “[g]o to att.com/getfiber to see if you qualify,” NAD said that wasn’t sufficient in communicating that the advertised service is “less available than available.” Part of the problem was that the fine print appeared on screen for all of two seconds (See for yourself if you can catch it).
In a decision recommending that AT&T pump up disclosures regarding the limited availability of its bright and shiny new internet service, NAD said:
Given that AT&T offers internet service using other technology, it is especially important that AT&T communicate the limited availability of its AT&T Fiber. Consumers familiar with AT&T as an internet service provider could reasonably take away a message that a new service is widely available where AT&T service is available.
AT&T, which according to the decision admitted to serving ads in markets where fewer than 15 percent of households had access to AT&T Fiber, argued that terms in advertising such as “coming soon” and “introducing” clearly convey that the internet service is not yet widely available (even if some ads explicitly proclaim that “the future is here”). The company said it would appeal NAD’s recommendation to boost disclosures to the National Advertising Review Board.
Just how limited is the availability of AT&T Fiber, though? It depends where you live — and who you ask. AT&T told NAD that in most of the markets it’s run TV ads for AT&T Fiber the availability is 15 percent of households or greater. But Charter Communications, AT&T’s cable company foe, which brought the initial ad challenge to NAD, said only 5 percent of AT&T customers nationwide can currently sign up for its competitor’s new internet service. Charter then piled on, telling NAD that, “best case scenario,” AT&T Fiber will reach 15 percent of its customers over the next three years.
The telecom wars rage on.
Find more of our coverage on internet service providers or ISPs here.
The National Advertising Division, or NAD, is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. NAD asks advertisers to substantiate or change their claims in advertisements. As part of a voluntary system of self-regulation, however, its recommendations can be ignored by the offending advertisers. In those instances, NAD refers the offender to federal consumer protection agencies.