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Advertiser: Three Ireland (Hutchison) Limited
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(c), 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10
A television advertisement for Three depicted various types of entertainment, such as a games console and music, emanating from an animated broadband router.
A male voice over says:
“This is unlimited broadband from Three. Now you and the whole family can stream movies, music and play games online for just €30 a month. And unlike most other broadband offers, ours won't shoot up. It's everything you need for just €30 a month. No extras and no price hikes.
Unlimited broadband from Three. Make it count.”
On screen text read:
“Fair usage of 750GB per billing cycle. Speeds may vary. Direct debit required.
18 month contract required. Subject to coverage and environmental factors. See three.ie”
eir objected to the advertisement which they considered to be misleading as it did not specify that the broadband being promoted related to ‘mobile’ broadband as opposed to ‘fixed line’ broadband.
The advertisers said that their Unlimited Broadband plan had been very successful, which they felt was clear evidence that their broadband offering was a direct competitor of the fixed offerings of other providers. They said that the competitive dynamics and substitutability of their mobile broadband for the fixed offerings of their competitors indicated that consumers considered good quality mobile broadband to be substitutable for fixed broadband.
They said that fixed broadband was not available in all locations and was of variable quality where it was available. Both fixed and mobile broadband had their benefits and limitations, they said, but enhanced mobile networks meant that they had converged in the eyes of consumers and they therefore did not believe that there was a requirement to distinguish further between them by referring specifically to ‘fixed’ broadband and ‘mobile’ broadband in advertisements. They pointed out that no such requirement existed in the ASAI Code nor in other guidance.
They said they considered it notable that eir had not complained about their broadband plans prior to them offering the ‘Unlimited Plan’, which they believed was clear evidence that their ‘Unlimited Plan’ was seen as a competitive threat (i.e. a substitute) to their broadband offering.
They said that they clearly outlined the terms and conditions of the ‘Unlimited Plan’ and that the following was stated during the advertisement:
“Fair usage of 750GB per billing cycle. Speeds may vary. Direct debit required. 24 month contract required. Subject to coverage and environmental factors. Offer expires 30.04.19. See three.ie”
By stating that the broadband service offered was subject to coverage and environmental factors, the advertisers considered they had clearly identified that the broadband offering was for mobile broadband. They advised that mobile broadband could be used at any location covered by the Three mobile network infrastructure, and that they currently had over 99% population coverage on both their 3G and 4G networks.
They said that the nature of mobile broadband meant that the consumer had the convenience to use mobile broadband at multiple locations on their 3G and 4G mobile networks, whereas a fixed broadband service would be available at a fixed location only. They said that the reference to ‘coverage and environmental factors’ adequately captured the difference between ‘mobile’ and ‘fixed’ broadband in line with the ASAI Advice Note.
They said that the advertisement further directed customers to visit the website where they could view the full range of broadband bill pay and prepay price plan options. They referred to the information displayed on the website which they confirmed would have been presented to the customer when placing an online order, as well as being presented to the customer during the online sales journey. This information included an online coverage checker and the Terms and Conditions associated with the offer. The Terms and Conditions page was titled “Bill Pay Mobile Broadband Price Plans and Price Plan Rules” and referred to “Mobile Broadband Services” throughout.
They also pointed out that customers who viewed the television advertisement would be likely to purchase the mobile broadband offering through retail channels as well as online. In both cases, they said, the customer would be given the chance to use the coverage checker and agree to the necessary terms and conditions. They said there would have been no chance that consumers could be confused about the fact they were purchasing mobile broadband. They said that the success of their unlimited plan was evidence that customers understood the differences, but also recognised the suitability of mobile and fixed broadband, before they purchased the Unlimited Plan.
The advertisers also said that they had not included the term ‘mobile’ broadband in the television advertisement because customer research found that it caused confusion amongst customers. They said that their research showed that customers understood the term ‘mobile’ broadband to mean that it was the same as using your mobile phone as a modem (known as ‘hot spotting’, which uses mobile phone price plan data allowances). They said that they needed to distinguish their mobile broadband offerings from their mobile phone offerings.
They reiterated that there was no requirement, either in the ASAI Code or other guidance, to use the term “mobile broadband” in any advertising. They further said that the ASAI made the following provisions for broadband providers in the 2008 ‘Advice Note to Broadband Providers’ which related to mobile broadband services: “Where the provider offers a limited geographical coverage, advertising in the national media must include an appropriate reference such as ‘Service dependant on coverage’ or ‘availability dependent on coverage’. They said they believed that both the television advertisement and the website terms and conditions made it clear that the service was subject to coverage.
They concluded by saying that they believed their advertising to be clear and transparent, and that no reasonable customer would be misled as to the nature of the mobile broadband product offered by Three in advance of purchasing. In fact, they said, the success of the Unlimited Plan demonstrated that customers were able to weigh up the options on the market, bearing in mind the availability of fixed and/or mobile broadband in their area, and make an informed choice.
Complaint not upheld.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
They noted that the advertisement referred to ‘broadband’ and had not stated or implied that it was a fixed line broadband offer. They considered whether consumers would be misled by the omission of the description ‘mobile’ and noted that no such complaints had been received.
The Committee also noted that there were no requirements in the guidance issued by the ASAI to identify the type of broadband being referred to in an advertisement, though a company could do so if they wanted.
In light of these considerations, the Committee did not consider that the reference to ‘broadband’ in this advertisement was likely to mislead.
No action is required.