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AT&T Criticized for Misleading Claims of DSL Value

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on December 01, 2014 9:45 AM

Companies are allowed a certain amount of bluster ("puffery") when making advertising claims. If those claims are demonstratively false, though, that's when you get into trouble with regulators.

AT&T claims that that its U-Verse DSL Internet service is the "fastest Internet for the price," which is true -- only if you're talking about its 3 Mbps plan, the slowest one it offers.

It's Better Than a Call from the FTC

According to Ars Technica, Comcast -- AT&T's chief rival in the broadband Internet world -- along with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus told AT&T in a statement that its claim was misleading, even though technically correct (the best kind of correct).

Comcast actually brought three complaints to the BBB. The second was about AT&T's claim of reliability and the third about advertising speeds "up to" 45 Mbps. The BBB said these statements were supportable, but still recommended that they be altered a little bit.

The BBB doesn't have any regulatory authority, but signatories to the BBB's National Advertising Division essentially agree by private contract to be bound by its determinations in lieu of costly litigation.

The Misleading Olympics

When it comes to misleading advertising, the broadband companies have it in the bag. Just look at this Verizon ad from August, claiming that Verizon's fiber-optic offerings are loads better than the competition in customer satisfaction surveys. In fact, the differences are infinitesimal, but Verizon highly magnified the end of the customer satisfaction chart to make it appear the distinctions were large.

Heck, this isn't even the most misleading thing AT&T said this month. In response to President Obama's net neutrality statement, AT&T's CEO, Randall Stephenson, said that the uncertainty surrounding the FCC's net neutrality regulations would mean it would have to abandon all those awesome plans it had to "deploy fiber to 100 cities." The FCC raised an eyebrow and called Stephenson's bluff, asking for clarification on exactly what its fiber-optic plans were and how the "uncertainty" would affect them.

AT&T's response? Essentially, "What we meant was that we'll have to pause future investments." So their hypothetical fiber rollout plans are, hypothetically, paused. AT&T clarified that their current fiber rollout plans are, contrary to what Stephenson said, unaffected.

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