BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Recommends CenturyLink Modify Certain Speed Claims to Better Assure Consumers Understand Basis for Comparison

New York, NY – Oct. 3 , 2014 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Internet service provider CenturyLink, Inc., modify certain comparative advertising claims to better assure that consumers understand that the claims compare the fastest speed offered by CenturyLink to the slowest speed offered by Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, a competing ISP.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Claims at issue included:

  • “13x faster than basic cable.”
  • “6x faster than basic cable.”
  •  “Speeds up to 40 Mbps.”
  • “Speeds up to 20Mbps.”

NAD also considered whether the advertising implied that CenturyLink’s 20-Megabits per second (Mbps) and 40 Mbps tiers of Internet service are available to all customers who see or read the ads and whether the advertising implied that CenturyLink’s Internet speeds are faster overall than the Internet speeds available from Comcast.

In this case, it was undisputed that CenturyLink is comparing its fastest available tier of service – 40 Mbps or 20 Mbps – to the slowest tier of speed offered by Comcast – 6 Mbps or 3 Mbps.

The issue for NAD was whether the comparison was misleading to consumers, even though the challenged advertisements explicitly identified the specific Comcast package that was the basis of comparison, both in the body of the print advertisements and in a disclaimer at the bottom of the page, and orally in the television commercial as well as in a bottom of the screen disclaimer.

Comcast maintained that the comparative speed claims are misleading because CenturyLink compared its fastest tiers of service to Comcast’s slowest tier. Comcast asserted that the fastest CenturyLink tier is not broadly available and the slowest Comcast tier isn’t widely used by consumers. Comcast argued that the basis of comparison isn’t clearly disclosed and that the challenged advertising conveys the unsubstantiated and inaccurate message that CenturyLink provides generally faster Internet speeds.

CenturyLink argued that the claims aren’t misleading because the object of comparison is clearly disclosed in both the main body of its advertisements and in clear and conspicuous disclaimers.  CenturyLink maintained that the advertised tiers of service are sufficiently available to consumers to support its claims, and to the extent any qualification of limited availability is necessary, the challenged advertisements contain a clear disclaimer to that effect.

Following its review, NAD determined that the advertising at issue did not convey the message that CenturyLink overall provided faster Internet speeds than Comcast.

However, NAD was concerned that the advertisements failed to convey meaningful information to consumers about the Comcast packages and are potentially misleading.

The advertising identifies the basis of comparison as a specific tier of service offered by Comcast – either “Comcast Economy Plus Internet” or “Comcast Performance Starter,” depending on the advertisement in question. NAD recommended that the advertiser modify its advertising to clearly and conspicuously communicate the basis of its comparison in a way that is meaningful to consumers – i.e. that the specific tiers of service being compared are CenturyLink’s fastest and Comcast’s slowest.

NAD further recommended that where the advertised tier of service is available to fewer than 50 percent of the consumers in a given geographical area where the advertising appears, CenturyLink modify its advertising to clearly and conspicuously disclose such limitations through the use of explicit qualifying language – noting, for example, that speeds up to 40 Mbps “may not be available in your area.”

Finally, NAD recommended that CenturyLink increase the size and prominence of disclosure in both print and broadcast advertising.

CenturyLink, in its advertiser’s statement, said that while the company “respectfully disagrees with certain of the NAD’s recommendations,” it will “take those recommendations into account in future advertising.  It is CenturyLink’s hope that all industry competitors will also abide by the guidance set forth in this decision.”