BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Reviews Cox “Powerboost” Claims Following Challenge By Qwest

New York, New York – Oct. 20, 2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has determined that Cox Communications provided reasonable support for certain advertising claims made for the company’s high-speed Internet service, but recommended that Cox clearly and conspicuously disclose in future advertising a limitation of PowerBoost – i.e., that PowerBoost provides a burst of speed available for the first 18 to 22 megabytes of a file download.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, found that Cox acted appropriately in discontinuing certain claims to avoid conveying the unsupported message that challenger Qwest Communications Corporation requires all of its customers to sign long-term contracts. The advertiser asserted that those claims were permanently discontinued prior to the filing of the challenge.

The challenged advertising claims, appearing in television, print and on the Internet, related to download speeds, Qwest subscription plans and customer service.

Claims at issue in the NAD inquiry included:

  • “PowerBoost gives you an extra burst of speed up to twice as fast as Qwest’s fastest DSL.”
  • “Dial up and DSL just can’t compete.”
  • “Up to 15Mbps download speed with PowerBoost.”
  • “Get up to 20 mbps download speeds for faster access to research, music and videos because I don’t have time to wait around”
  • Now that I have Cox, I get blazing fast downloads.  Plus with PowerBoost, I get an extra speed burst when I need it most.”
  • “Say no to Qwest long-term contracts and unmet expectations”
  • “Qwest wants to lock you in to a lifetime of their DLS Internet service.  Well technology can change a lot in a lifetime.”
  • “After you compare Cox to Qwest DSL service you might as well add a lifetime of Qwest’s current DLS service to the obsolete file too.”

Cox asserted at the outset of NAD’s inquiry that the majority of the television commercials challenged by Qwest – including advertising claims related to Qwest’s DSL service – had stopped running prior to the date of Qwest’s complaint and have been permanently discontinued.  NAD noted that it appreciated the discontinuance of the challenged claims – action NAD found necessary and appropriate to avoid conveying the unsupported message that Qwest requires all of its customers to sign long-term contracts. 

NAD focused its review on claims related to the PowerBoost feature advertised by Cox –  a new technology in cable modem service that provides Internet customers with a “surge” in the available download speed. 

According to the advertiser, the standard or “provisioned” network speeds made available to its cable modem service customers are controlled by software and are set taking into account network capacity and Cox’s network management goals.  Cox stated that PowerBoost technology leverages available bandwidth in Cox’s network to permit bursts of speed that are faster than the standard speed limits imposed by Cox’s network management software.  These faster speeds are available to customers for the first 18 to 22 MB of a file download (depending on the customer’s service tier) and each burst typically lasts between 5 to 10 seconds.

Qwest contended that the claims did not provide clear and reasonably understandable information to consumers regarding the sustained download speeds consumers are likely to obtain. 

In reaching its decision, NAD examined evidence that included the affidavits of Cox’s expert engineer, and the company’s description of the software technology, method for monitoring bandwidth, engineering studies and internal engineering studies, field tests and independent speed tests. Following its review of the evidence, NAD determined that the advertiser provided a reasonable basis for claiming that the benefits of PowerBoost technology (e.g, maximum speeds at the advertised levels) would be available to an appreciable number of subscribers.

NAD noted in its decision that would be “nearly impossible to convey in an advertisement the full array of factors that might effect a consumer’s download speed.  It is because of this that ISPs (including Cox) include necessary disclosures such as ‘actual speeds will vary.’”

NAD recommended that Cox qualify future “up to”  claims regarding the maximum speeds available with PowerBoost by clearly and conspicuously disclosing that PowerBoost provides a burst of speed available for the first 18 to 22 megabytes of a file download.

The company, in its advertiser’s statement, said it “appreciates NAD’s careful consideration of the issues raised in this matter and will take into account NAD’s recommendations in its future advertising.”