back to article BT's 'six-month free broadband' offer is a big fat FIB - ads watchdog

BT misled customers by wrongly claiming that one of its broadband products was "free for six months", says Blighty's ad watchdog. This is the second time this year the national telco has been scolded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The offending press advert boasted that "the UK's most complete broadband package …

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  1. Richard 81
    Meh

    And how much will BT be fined?

    Oh, I see.

    1. tmTM

      Re: And how much will BT be fined?

      A good and proper gumming by the ASA has been delivered.

      Not enough for you?

    2. Andrew Moore Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: And how much will BT be fined?

      A great fine would be £5,000 and underneath in the small print "Price shown does not include £2,000,000 handling charge"

    3. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: And how much will BT be fined?

      The ASA has no authority over anyone. There will be no fine. That's actually a good thing because the ASA is as inconsistent as it is toothless. Still - in my opinion anyone who believes what they read in an advert is on thin ice in the first place. Frankly even bothering to read adverts is a waste of time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And how much will BT be fined?

        Unfortunate, but true.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

    Virgin were on BBC Watchdog not so long ago for something VERY similar, I'll have you know.

    1. Mattjimf
      Holmes

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      What's the bet they are the "unnamed rival".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      So if I shoot someone with a gun, then someone else does it shortly after then I should get done for murder and the other person gets a lesser punishment?

      Virgin and BT have both been in trouble over advertising. So what? I would sooner have Virgin for the simple fact that BT have held back this country massively in terms of telecommunications. We could have had ADSL in the 1990s but they were happy to let people pay for dial up. Unmetered dial-uo Internet came about due to a company called Tempo (no longer with us) who created Screaming.net. BT couldn't give two shits about providing that, they were raking in call fees.

      BT have their fingers in so many pies, they still think it is the 1980s and they are a state owned utility.

      1. Andrew Moore Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

        "So if I shoot someone with a gun, then someone else does it shortly after then I should get done for murder and the other person gets a lesser punishment?"

        Of course. The second crime is obviously one of diminished responsibility as they were only following your lead in the first place.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

        "So if I shoot someone with a gun, then someone else does it shortly after then I should get done for murder and the other person gets a lesser punishment?"

        Yes, presuming that the person you shot is now dead, so shooting them again isn't murder, exactly what crime shooting a dead body is is up for debate.

    3. Irongut

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      Another day, another lie from BT.

      Just because Virgin lie as well doesn't mean we should let BT get away with it.

    4. Andy ORourke
      Unhappy

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      Virgin STILL do it, My daughter recently moved and was going to sign up for "Broadband and calls for just £4.50 per month*"

      I told her, see that star, have a look what is says - Installation fee, line rental from day one of £14.50 or so.

      Its just like unlimited* The * is all important, I recently had a debate with Three about this, I was looking at a SIM only deal, £12.50 per month, unlimited data, I was then told if I wanted tethering I'd have to pay £25.00 per month because "you can use much more data if you tether your phone". My reply was "If I have "unlimited*" data then WTF does it matter if I tether or not?" He didnt really have an answer to that so I decided not to join Three.

      If only there was some way to stop firms making misleading claims in Advertising (Don't get me started on Plus Net or any of the others pulling this same trick!

      1. Gordon Lawrie

        Re: Three's products

        This isn't actually unreasonable. Three have simply decided to have two different types of unlimited data tariff, one solely for use on a single mobile device, and one which can be shared across multiple devices. Both allow you to use as much data as you want without caps or threats of extra charges. Let's face it, someone loading the full fat version of a webpage on a tethered laptop uses data than someone loading the mobile version of the same site on their phone.

        A reasonable analogy is an all you can eat buffet. Whilst you are free to eat as much food as you want, you would expect the restaurant to charge more if you decided you wanted to share a plate with a buddy or take a doggy bag home.

        The mobile spectrum is a shared resource and Three has decided that they want more revenue from users who are likely to have heavier data usage patterns than other users. That's fine, and as long as they are upfront and honest about the differences between the two products that is totally their prerogative. Equally if you are not happy with the terms and conditions or price of their products it is your prerogative to take your business elsewhere.

        1. Shades
          Stop

          @Gordon Lawrie, Re: Three's products

          "someone loading the full fat version of a webpage on a tethered laptop uses [more] data than someone loading the mobile version of the same site on their phone."

          Thats a bit of a disingenuous example. Not all websites have mobile versions and most that do are inferior to that of the full fat versions (El Reg being guilty of this, the BBC not so). Personally I tend to use the full fat websites even on my phone. This actually results in more data usage when browsing with the phone itself than browsing with my laptop tethered to my phone as I run FireFox with NoScript and Ghostery which stops many things from being automatically downloaded; Flash, images, scripts, etc.

          I realise this is just me, and its an anecdote, but chances are I'm not the only one to find myself in this situation. Its also probably why I've never had a letter/e-mail telling me I'm being naughty by tethering; Even if my networks tethering detection is as good as they say it is (which I doubt) I'm actually using less data.

          1. Gordon Lawrie

            Re: @Gordon Lawrie, Three's products

            I take your point regarding some websites not having mobile versions, however that doesn't change the fact that broadly speaking the usage patterns of someone who wishes to tether will vary from those of someone who only consumes data browsing on their phone. There may be the odd anomaly such as the example you gave however I am willing to bet that averaged across the entire customer base data use is going to be significantly higher amongst those customers who tether.

            Three deserves kudos for leading the market in abandoning sneaky fair use policies on their data products and as long as they continue to be honest and upfront about the limitations I don't see a problem with them differentiating their tariff features.

    5. Flywheel Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      Er, maybe that's because both companies have been naughty and therefore deserve to be bashed?

    6. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      We recently wrote about Virgin Media and the ASA here:

      Virgin Media's 'bye-bye to buffering' ad nuked by watchdog - AGAIN

      Virgin Media spanked for 'we've already cabled up your house' mailshot

      C.

    7. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Another day, another "Let's bash BT" article

      Well, AC (at 12:24), it isn't hard. BT advertised something is "free". Look up "free" (in the monetary sense) in your dictionary if you are having difficulties, suffice to say that six months where the customer needs to fork out cash is not free. It's really quite simple. They say it is free, it is not.

      Whether or not Virgin do/did/may do the same sort of thing is neither here nor there. Let ASA threaten to show them a picture of the naughty step in that case. We're talking about BT today...

  3. Lusty Silver badge

    Can't the ASA just ban the words "free" and "unlimited" from use in advertising? I can't think of a single honest instance where they have been used.

    Come to think of it, they should ban the use of asterisks too. If you have to put a footnote on the screen it probably means you're pulling a fast one!

    1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

      also "fresh", "homemade", "luxury" and "deluxe"- especially when applied to food products.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        And...

        the meaningless word 'goodness'. As seen on TV.

        1. pPPPP

          Re: And...

          Absolutely. Anything advertised as "free" should be forced to be free. So if you get the broadband for 6 months free, then you should be able to cancel it after 6 months and pay nothing. If something is "buy one, get one free", you should be able to claim the free item without buying the other one. Otherwise, it is not free and is a bare-faced lie. You should at least be able to take one for half price.

          All offers should be forced to display the actual price you end up paying, and nothing else. Then it would be fair for all and we'd be able to distinguish between competitors. They'd save a fortune in advertising their fibs too.

          And supermarkets should be forced to say "we selected a bunch of products, which at the time happened to be cheaper than competitor X. That doesn't necessarily mean we're cheaper overall". Or be forced to say "if you believe this shit you're an idiot."

          I can get quite angry sometimes.

          1. HollyHopDrive

            Re: And...

            Yes I agree free should mean free. The thing with the broadband is you can't have the data without the line rental. So that does need to be made clear.

            I think the easiest way to resolve this would be for it to "be 6 months free on a 18 month contract. Total contract cost £xxx or £yy per month. A saviing of £zz per month on a rolling month plan"

            That would allow you to see how much you save in reality. Then call out any other charges (which should be inlcuded in the total cost) for things such as activation fees etc.

            Its like cinema tickets. I got chanrged an 80p a ticket fee the other day. Well, I can't avoid that, so the the ticket prices is £7.50 + 80p (i.e. £8.30 not £7.50). Only where the booking fee is fixed should you be able to call it a booking fee.

            Hidden costs are all about the marketing department trying to look cheaper than a competitor.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: And...

              Re: cinema ticket booking fee. Another way of handling the issue for the cinema chain would be "80p discount on the £8.30 ticket price if you pay cash on the door". The reason they don't is that the 80p is presumably pure profit and/or advance booking is a benefit to them (as well as you). My wife paid a 50% surcharge for using a credit card to buy a coach ticket on-line, there was no alternative payment method, no way of avoiding the fee - but that's not such a bad scam as it sounds it was a fixed fee of 50p for card payment and the return ticket, Sheffield to London only cost £1! (Megabus)

          2. Jamie Jones Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: And...

            YES! The use of "free" when they mean "included in the original price" is one of my pet peeves too!

          3. the spectacularly refined chap

            Re: And...

            I don't have a problem with BOGOF deals, after all they are clear and up front: you have to buy on to become eligible for the free one. That is simply presenting the terms of a transaction without any deception. Of course, you pay for the second one via other means but nevertheless it is free to you - it doesn't cost any more to buy two than only a single one.

            On the other hand I do have problems with these "get x month free" deals not because of the line rental but because they do not spell out the quid pro quo - to follow the BOGOF model it would be "Buy eighteen months, get six months free" or whatever. Even worse are the "Try our service free for three months" style "offers" which try to conceal the fact that by "trying" the service you commit yourself to a two year contract. Not much of a trial in my books.

            Of course I don't really see why these offers are needed in the first place except to catch the unwary or penalise the lazy or loyal customers that don't switch ISPs every time the minimum term is up. I paid my annual webhosting a few weeks ago and oddly enough I knew precisely what I was paying for because it was sold as an annual fee, not a "buy one month, get eleven months free" deal.

      2. Keep Refrigerated
        Angel

        I am in no way exaggerating!*

        Just ban asterisks... that should reduce their ability to overstate their offer!**

        ^

        ^

        ^

        ^

        * Yes I am.

        ** See title.

        1. ACx

          Re: I am in no way exaggerating!*

          That is a rather good idea.

          I would argue that the advert should never rely on an "*" point. If you need one, your main ad must be misleading by default. If the "*" point is necessary, it should be clearly part of the main advert.

          Some one should start a Ban The "*" campaign.

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      downunder ...

      There is a term called a cap which pretty much means the exact opposite of what the word means in any other context.

      Basically a $50 cap means you cannot spend less than $50. Crazy.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They should investigate the current BT adverts. They show students with fibre, despite the fact that most students couldn't afford it - there isn't a chance a student would sign up for an 18 month contract.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah. And that ad for

      BT Infinity (up to eight times faster). Since when has Infinity been in the vicinity of seven and a half?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Absolutely, annoys me every time I see that advert. I don't know of any student, at any university in the UK who could commit to more than a 12 month contract for broadband - anything more is a waste, and in many cases anything over 9 months is unused, so how they can ever claim that a minimum 18 month contract is "ideal for students" is bizarre. BT should get a far bigger slap for that than the current finding about the 6 months free thing.

  5. Richard S
    Thumb Down

    Line rental

    All line rental costs should be very clearly stated in advertising of this kind. It seems to me, line rental is a way of hiding fees as no one (read: a growing majority) actually need a landline other than an internet connection.

    1. pPPPP

      Re: Line rental

      Line rental is a hang-up from the days when you actually rented your telephone from BT. What it should really be advertised as is a support and maintenance contract, because that's what in effect it is. Whether that should be part of the cost you pay for your broadband is another matter. It could be argued that if you have a telephone line which you use for the phone as well as for the broadband, and you have a single support phone number then you shouldn't have to pay twice for this service. Which is in effect what happens when you subscribe to so-called "packages".

      It would be nice if the companies would just be up-front and state that this is what you're paying for. However I suspect that if they did they would scream "Free Line Rental Forever!!!!!*"

      * When you subscribe to a support and maintenance contract. Not available to existing customers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Line rental

        You only get charged the line rental if you aren't already paying it. You don't end up paying for it twice

  6. NogginTheNog
    FAIL

    Award winning

    I've been seeing billboard posters recently from BT offering their YouView box ("worth £299") free as part of their "award winning broadband service". I've been wracking my brain to think of any awards it's picked up recently - certain NOT one for vfm (possibly ever?!).

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Award winning

      > certain NOT one for vfm

      Their Infinity product ought to. It's one of the cheapest options around and seems to be a pretty good service from what I hear. Frankly I'm amazed they are allowed to offer Infinity at such a paltry price. I'd expect someone to be complaining about loss-leaders designed to price out the competition.

      Personally I found the lack of static IP to be problem and that along with the bad reputation their support has put me off. Still - it's bloody cheap and is probably good enough for most people.

  7. kbb
    FAIL

    Does the ASA have any other punishments?

    Why do all the ASAs punishments always seem to be "Don't show the advert again, even though you won't anyway because the campaign has ended."?

    1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Does the ASA have any other punishments?

      Sadly not. I have always believed that the ASA should have (and exercise) the ability to block ALL adverts after such a failure for a period equal to the original failing campaign.

      Then again they upheld complaints about Virgin saying that with their fibre 'you could say goodbye to buffering'. This was a correct use of English and made no absolute statements unlike the ignored re-defining of 'Unlimited' so loved by BT et al.

      Not that much hope then.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Does the ASA have any other punishments?

        Don't put too much faith in the ASA. They have approved the use of 'unlimited' for services that plainly have limits and also require ISPs to quote the pointless 'At least 10% get...' speed figure.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Does the ASA have any other punishments?

      The ASA can tell companies not to re-run adverts. If they keep ignoring the same rules, then the ASA can stop them running any advert that hasn't been pre-approved. This is annoying for them, and slows down the marketing process - but isn't all that bad. They did this to FCUK a while back, I'm surprised none of the broadband providers haven't been hit with the same punishment, given how often they get their wrists slapped.

      I'd imagine it's because FCUK were being told off for being offensive, rather than misleading.

      Personally I'd punish them for their inability to spell fuck. But maybe I'm just being grumpy...

  8. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    The Adam and Joe Show

    Many years ago the Adam and Joe Show had a scene where they went into a supermarket and start eating the "X% Free" portion of various products. Needless to say the manger wasn't very happy.

    1. pPPPP

      Re: The Adam and Joe Show

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs3w7BbCB-0

  9. g.marconi

    why is line-rental mandatory?

    An even worse scam by BT is enforcing the full line-rental even when customers only need ADSL. With increasing numbers of people using mobile-phones as their sole means of communication very often they do not need a land-line.Telcos in other countries are happy to provide a "dry-pair" for the DSL without voice services at a much cheaper price but BT has always refused to consider this. It should not be legal to charge customers for something that they do not want !

    1. Jonathon Desmond
      Thumb Up

      Re: why is line-rental mandatory?

      Well said. Screw flying cars, where's my naked ADSL? Other countries have no issues implementing it......

    2. Test Man
      Stop

      Re: why is line-rental mandatory?

      Not saying it's right, but BT's excuse is that it's a charge for the use of the line, which you need, and the voice services come "free". Hence why it's called "line rental" and not "phone service".

      Again, not saying it's right...

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: why is line-rental mandatory?

        So when some cunning ad-exec reads this, we can perhaps expect Ford et al to start offering free cars, where you pay only several thousands of pounds for an optional accessory called the key?

        1. Test Man
          Thumb Up

          Re: why is line-rental mandatory?

          "So when some cunning ad-exec reads this, we can perhaps expect Ford et al to start offering free cars, where you pay only several thousands of pounds for an optional accessory called the key?"

          If they offer you a key that costs tens of thousands of pounds and a "free" car to go with it, then yeah

          ;)

      2. Lost in Cyberspace

        Re: why is line-rental mandatory?

        It's not just line rental though, is it. BT pissed me off a few years ago by hiking up the price and then saying, 'don't worry, the price increase now includes free weekend calls/evening calls'. Fat lot of good on a broadband-only line...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: why is line-rental mandatory?

          It's even worse than that. If you get the cheaper "pay 12 months upfront to get cheaper lone rental" deal, they throw in some free evening and weekend calls. Unfortunately, if you *don't* make enough calls per month they they charge a penalty for not using it, clearly designed to penalise people who only use their lines for broadband. And it's not mentioned in any available terms or advertising until *after* you've ordered the line!

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