BBB National Programs NAD Determines AT&T Has a Reasonable Basis for its Qualified “Best Wireless Network” Claim; Recommends AT&T Discontinue “5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G” Claim, Following T-Mobile Challenge; Advertiser to Appeal

For Immediate Release

Contact: Laura Brett, Vice President, NAD

lbrett@bbbnp.org

New York, NY – December 9, 2019 – The National Advertising Division determined that AT&T Services, Inc. has a reasonable basis for its “best wireless network according to America’s biggest test” claim.  However, NAD recommended modification to the disclosures used to qualify AT&T’s “best wireless network” claim. NAD further determined that AT&T’s “just okay is not okay” claim and related vignettes do not falsely denigrate competitors and were supported. Finally, NAD recommended that AT&T discontinue its “5G Evolution” and “5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G” claims. The claims, which appeared in television, radio and internet advertising, were challenged by competitor T-Mobile USA, Inc. AT&T said that it will appeal the adverse finding regarding its 5G Evolution claims to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB).

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is a division of the BBB NP’s self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs.

The claims at issue included:

Express claims:

  • AT&T is the “Best Wireless Network.”
  • GWS’ test is “America’s Biggest Test.”
  • Competitor networks, including T-Mobile’s, are “just okay.”
  • AT&T now has “5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G.”

Implied claims:

  • Competitor networks, including T-Mobile’s, are grossly inferior to AT&T’s in terms of end user performance.
  • Competitor networks do not meet acceptable standards of performance and reliability and are unworthy of consumers’ consideration.
  • AT&T’s network is in a completely different class than competitor networks.

With respect to AT&T’s claim that it is the “best wireless network according to America’s biggest test,” NAD determined that the qualifying language “according to America’s biggest test,” limits the message reasonably conveyed by the “best network” claim to a specific test. In support of its “best wireless network” claim, AT&T offered the results of Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) drive testing which measured network performance by loading phones into vehicles, and measuring the phones’ performance during the course of the drive test routes.  The advertiser argued that the “best network” rating by GWS reflects which network performs best on the metrics that matter most to consumers, based upon the results of a consumer survey.  NAD considered the methodology of this consumer survey, as well as the GWS drive testing, and determined that such testing provided a reasonable basis for AT&T’s qualified “best network” claim. However, where the advertiser uses a disclosure to qualify its “best network” claim, NAD recommended that AT&T disclose that the claim is limited to a specific test, in immediate proximity to the claim, and sufficiently prominently that the consumer will be able to notice, read, and understand the disclosure when they read the claim.

Further, AT&T stated that GWS is “America’s biggest test” because, among tests that give best network awards, it drives the most miles, covers the largest area, and measures the largest number of data points.  NAD reviewed the evidence in support of this contention and concluded that, in context, AT&T’s claim that GWS’ test is “America’s biggest test” was supported.  However, NAD recommended that AT&T make its disclosure, “excludes crowdsourced studies,” clear and conspicuous – and sufficiently prominent that the consumer will be able to notice, read, and understand the disclosure when they read the claim. 

In addition, T-Mobile challenged a series of commercials which include the claim “just okay is not okay” following a vignette in which a trusted person (such as a doctor, tattoo artist, or interpreter) or object (such as a climbing rope) is portrayed as humorously failing minimal expectations.  NAD determined that in this context, without a depiction or description of poor service on competing wireless networks, the “just okay is not okay” claim and related vignettes do not falsely denigrate competitors, but highlight its claim that AT&T “is America’s best wireless network according to America’s biggest test,” a claim NAD determined to be supported.

Finally, with regard to AT&T’s “5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G” claim, NAD determined that consumers can take away the message that AT&T’s “5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G” network is (1) a network using 5G technology; or (2) represents a level of technology above 4G LTE service.  However, it was not disputed that the portion of AT&T’s network that it calls “5G Evolution” is a 4G network. Thus, NAD concluded that the claim reasonably conveys a misleading message because it refers to a level of technology that AT&T’s service does not deliver.  NAD noted that even if consumers take away a qualified message, the claim reasonably conveys the message that AT&T delivers next generation service, more than 4G LTE service, a message that was not supported by the evidence in the record.  NAD was not persuaded by AT&T’s argument that the word “Evolution” limits the message to AT&T’s evolving network and that it is deploying technologies that are the first step in a network transformation. NAD noted that even if consumers understand the “the first step to 5G” as limiting the claim, they could reasonably take away the message that beginning 5G technology is delivered. Thus, NAD recommended that AT&T discontinue its “5G Evolution” and “5G Evolution, the First Step to 5G” claims.  NAD noted that nothing in its decision prevents AT&T from describing the steps it has taken to prepare its 4G network for the rollout of 5G.

In its advertiser’s statement, AT&T stated that it will appeal a portion of NAD’s decision. AT&T stated, “we strongly disagree with NAD’s recommendations regarding AT&T’s ‘5G Evolution’ and ‘5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G’ claims. These have been in the marketplace since late 2018 and have served to educate customers about the billions of dollars AT&T has invested to give customers an outstanding experience. We therefore intend to seek review of NAD’s decision by an independent NARB panel.”

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About the National Advertising Division: National Advertising Division (NAD), a division of BBB National Programs, provides independent self-regulation overseeing the truthfulness of advertising across the U.S. NAD reviews national advertising in all media and its decisions set consistent standards for truth and accuracy.

About BBB National Programs: BBB National Programs fosters trust, innovation, and competition in the marketplace through the development and delivery of cost-effective, third-party self-regulation, dispute resolution and other programs. The programs were formerly administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. BBB NP is the home of industry self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs that include the National Advertising Division (NAD), National Advertising Review Board (NARB), BBB EU Privacy Shield, BBB AUTO LINE, Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), Children’s Confection Advertising Initiative (CCAI), Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC), Digital Advertising Accountability Program (Accountability Program), and the Coalition for Better Advertising Dispute Resolution Program (CBA DRM). The programs are designed to resolve business issues and advance shared objectives by responding to marketplace concerns to create a better customer experience. To learn more about industry self-regulation, please visit: BBBNP.org.