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Time Warner Cable drops fiber from ad campaigns

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 7:40am
Mike Robuck

While Time Warner Cable "respectfully disagrees" with a ruling by the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) panel, it will drop advertising claims that its services were provisioned through a fiber or fiber-optic network.

In May of last year, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus took issue with Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications characterizing their respective networks as advanced fiber-optic networks. Cox agreed to drop the fiber claims from its ads, but Time Warner Cable appealed the NAD's decision to the National Advertising Review Board.

At issue was Time Warner Cable's use of fiber to its nodes instead of a fiber-to-the-premises delivery that Verizon has built out at a considerable cost. Time Warner Cable referred to its "advanced fiber network" in print, video and Internet ads, which led to Verizon's complaint to the NAD.

"The record in this case indicates that 'last mile' architecture is relevant to a network's performance capabilities," the NARB panel found. "Prior NAD cases recognized differences between 'fiber-to-the-home' networks and 'fiber-to-the-node' networks, and the evidence in the present case shows those differences continue to exist. The record indicates that 'fiber-to-the-home' networks are generally considered to represent the highest level of technology currently used for consumer telecommunications services."

According to the NARB panel, neither party presented consumer-perception evidence.
Without that evidence, the panel said it put itself in the shoes of the consumer to determine the reasonable takeaway of the challenged claims. ??

The panel, in its decision, wrote "that many products and services may be appropriately described by reference to their predominant characteristic. However, reference to the predominant characteristic of a product or service can be misleading if, as in the present case, that reference reasonably implies attributes that are not substantiated."

Time Warner Cable said its fiber claims were fully substantiated but agreed to quit using them in ad campaigns.

"Time Warner Cable believes that the panel's decision denies Time Warner Cable the opportunity to truthfully and accurately describe its fiber-optic network in its advertising – a practice which it has engaged in for two decades without any signs of consumer confusion or harm. In addition, the panel's decision inhibits the ability of Time Warner Cable and other service providers to distinguish their services in areas where their competitors have indisputably inferior products," according to its statement.

Cable operators will continue to deploy more fiber in their networks over the coming years, but it will be largely dependent on their HFC networks in the short term. In the meantime, it looks as though they'll need to stay clear of using "fiber-optic networks" and similar verbiage in their ad campaigns.

"Cable companies say the darndest things," Verizon spokesman Bill Kula wrote in a statement. "It's unfortunate that some companies resort to making false and misleading statements about what they can deliver. When that happens, it leaves consumers confused.

"We're gratified of the NARB recommendation that helps to set the record straight in terms of how Time Warner describes its network."

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