Saturday, 4 October 2014

It is time Virgin apologised

Virgin still try and sell "fibre optic broadband" which is actually delivered via their cable network using copper coax connections to the house.

Technologically it is not a bad way to do things. Indeed, the recent BBC article said this was faster than "fibre" services. This is not because it is inherently faster as a technology than fibre, but because OFCOM were calling BTs FTTC service "fibre" when it is not (it uses copper pairs from the cabinet). BT do sell FTTP as well, which is fibre. For BTs services there is an extra cost for 80Mb/s compared to 40Mb/s and that will have skewed the stats simply because, for most people, it makes no real difference apart from bragging rights down the pub.

This article does muddy the water as a proper fibre optic connection is technology that is capable of massively greater speed and reliability than either FTTC or cable services. One wonders if we will start to see terms like "real fibre" much like we see "full HD".

Recently, Virgin tried to defend their claims of selling fibre optic broadband by referencing an old OFCOM glossary which defined cable, fibre, and ADSL services. Ignoring the "cable" definition they relied on the "fibre" definition as being fibre to the nearest cabinet to the home and then copper from there. They lost that argument as, in my case, the fibre does not go to the nearest cabinet (I have pictures of it), but some cabinet further away (no doubt near to my home, but not nearest). They have been ordered to apologise to me for mis-selling fibre optic broadband which is clearly not. They have missed the deadline and not apologised in spite of a ruling against them.

To be fair, I will again say that the technology they use is pretty good. I have never complained that it is not good or fast. My complaint is about the lies they tell when they claim it is "fibre optic cable" when clearly it is copper coax cable. There are differences in terms of how fast the technology could be upgraded in future and in terms of reliability, resistance to RF interference, and to weather. But at present their actual service is fine and comparable FTTC. The BBC article, for all its woolliness, does make it clear that these services are very similar.

However, as reported on that article, it seems that OFCOM agree: "In Ofcom's nomenclature "cable" means ISP Virgin Media and "fibre" refers to the other big domestic ISPs it samples when drawing up statistics."

Now, if even OFCOM define Virgin's service as "cable" and not "fibre", I think it is time Virgin apologised not just to me (as ordered by the arbitrator) but to everyone they have mis-sold "fibre optic broadband" to over the years. Market their service truthfully, as "cable" or just as a good fast Internet service - there is no need to lie about it.

[as ever, my personal opinions and not those of my employer]

Update: Virgin have expressed surprise that, as I run an ISP, I was not familiar with their broadband offer. Well, I think the real issue here is that Virgin's marketing department treat the attribute 'fibre optic' like saying 'really fast' and not as a description of the actual medium used, which it clearly is. As a result they have no trouble with the idea of selling 'fibre optic broadband' over coax cable and think that is valid description. All I did was take them at their word, as any customer should be able to.


  1. I wonder if Vodafone could sell their mobile service as "fibre" on the same basis. It's just 3G for the last mile...

    1. Based on ASA logic, I see no reason why not!

  2. Could you try complaining to the ASA with a copy of the arbitrators judgement, given it presumably shows that in someone's independent view VM are not delivering fibre broadband?

  3. Openreach should do the same. Yesterday I saw one their vans with the logo "Superfast Fibre" on the side. To me 'ordinary' fibre would be at least 1Gbit/s and superfast 10Gbit/s.

  4. Surely they have to about that their current offering isn't fibre when they are actually trialling a true ftth solution in one town:

  5. It is ludicrous that any broadband over copper technology can legally be sold as "fibre optic." That there could be judgements against VM and for BT in what is essentially the same false claim does underline just how strong the reek of incompetence is at the ASA.

    I suppose this particular madness isn't going to end until all distribution networks are fibre all the way. Lamentably, on our current trajectory not only will that take decades but it'll be passively switched garbage that can't be unbundled.