Wednesday, October 06, 2010

South Africa - ASA has held Vodacom cannot use "broadband" for its service, this is disputed by the firm and by experts

[it web] The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is mistaken in the Vodacom broadband debate, say analysts.

The authority ruled that Vodacom must immediately remove the term “broadband” from all its advertising, since it cannot prove that it in fact delivers broadband across its entire network.

However, executive head of corporate communications Richard Boorman says it is too early for the operator to comment on potential changes to its advertising.

“We are challenging this decision by the ASA, since we have proven that our network does indeed support the speeds necessary to define our service as broadband.”

Vodacom has not yet said on what basis it is going back to the ASA.

Deceptive advertising?

A consumer complaint was lodged against a Vodacom advertisement that appeared in the Sunday Times in May, says the ASA.

It adds that the advert contains the wording “get up to 60% more Internet, news, e-mail, music and sport. Now at the fastest broadband speed available.”

The complaint was that the advert is misleading as broadband is “generally taken to mean over 32KBps”, whereas Vodacom “consistently deliver less than 20KBps”.
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Vodacom submitted a report from Cyest – an independent expert as regarded by the ASA – which concluded that 99.7% of performance tests that were conducted on Vodacom's network were greater than 256Kbps.

Vodacom argued that this proves it delivers what can be regarded as “broadband”.

However, the ASA highlighted a part of the Cyest report which said: “It must be noted though that no conclusion can be made that these samples or performance results are representative of the entire 3G network. In order to determine the confidence level of these samples representing the entire network, we would require the total number of based stations providing the 3G service and how the samples relate to this.”

The ASA said it is, therefore, apparent that although there is proof that the advertised product can deliver at the implied speed in some areas, the report does not confirm that the said speed can be achieved over Vodacom's entire network, as the sample tested was not representative of the entire network.

“Accordingly, the general reference to broadband in the respondent's advertising is currently unsubstantiated.”

The results of this ruling are that the general reference to broadband must be withdrawn and the process to withdraw the reference to broadband must be done immediately.

Take two

Vodacom then submitted another Cyest report, which said previous ASA rulings have shown a benchmark and since Vodacom surpasses this, its offering can be regarded as “broadband”.

“Where 80% of the user base experienced coverage, compliance was deemed to be 'substantiated', 'not misleading' and 'not insignificant'.”

The new report had shown samples on network results; tests conducted directly by Vodacom customers at any time from any device or location within the network; and samples gathered from network probes measuring the actual performance of users who download a file greater than 1MB in size.

However, the ASA says this survey-type data cannot be accepted, because any substantiation based on survey-type data must either emanate from or be verified by an entity that is recognised or approved by the Southern African Market Research Association (SAMRA) and Cyest is not SAMRA accredited or approved.

The ASA says that accordingly, the previous ruling still stands where any reference to broadband in Vodacom's advertisements is not substantiated and is misleading.

Equivocal broadband

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says the problem is around the definition of broadband.

“The problem is with the idea that broadband is a defined speed and it's not. So I think the ASA is mistaken here. It's not about speed. As much as it sounds as if the ASA ruling is pro-consumer, it's not helping the consumer by confusing definitions.”

Goldstuck says the definition of broadband is to simultaneously deliver audio, video, graphic and text on the same channel.

The ASA said, although Vodacom initially appeared to disagree with the complainant's interpretation of how widely or narrowly “broadband” should be defined, its official submissions were based on the assumption that “broadband” would imply speeds in excess of “32KBps (or 256Kbps)”.

Its submissions further stated “there are various definitions of 'broadband', but Vodacom will for the purpose of the complaint accept that the complainant's definition is correct”.

No guarantees

Goldstuck adds that the problem with mobile broadband is that it doesn't have a consistent speed.

“ASA cannot demand that a provider guarantees 100% over the whole network.”

He says networks are in the position where they are selling broadband, but they cannot guarantee it wherever you are. “They cannot be stopped from using the term 'broadband' just because they can't guarantee it wherever you are.”

Broadband is not about speed

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