Is BT's fibre broadband for real? Internet challenger launches legal bid to end "fake fibre"

Oliver Gill
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CityFibre has recently signed a partnership with Vodafone to plug 5m UK homes directly into its fibre network (Source: Getty)

A Neil Woodford-backed telecoms challenger has launched a legal bid to stop Britain's biggest internet providers from offering "fibre" broadband.

The boss of Aim-quoted CityFibre accused the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of failing "to ensure honest and truthful broadband advertising" and called for the end of "fake fibre".

Last November the ASA ruled customers were not being "misled" by firms promising "full-fibre services".

The majority of Britain's broadband infrastructure works by way of fibre cabling; but critically, the final few hundred metres to homes and businesses are connected by century-old copper wiring.

CityFibre, 40 per cent of which is owned by Woodford and former employer Invesco own, slammed the ASA's research and logic as "fundamentally flawed".

The ASA had reviewed the terminology after calls from Westminster and the telecoms industry for greater clarification.

CityFibre is building fibre networks that plug directly in homes across cities in the UK. It recently signed a partnership with Vodafone to deliver ultrafast broadband to 5m UK homes.

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“You could hardly expect an automotive manufacturer to get away with advertising an ‘electric car’ when the most electric part of the car was its windows. The time has come to do away with ‘fake fibre’," said CityFibre boss Greg Mesch.

The ASA’s short-sighted decision to allow yesterday’s copper-based infrastructure to masquerade as the future-proof full fibre networks of tomorrow is a clear failure in its duty. It has failed to ensure honest and truthful broadband advertising, it has failed to enable consumers to make informed choices and it has failed to support a national infrastructure project critical to our success in a digital age.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Vodafone said: “Customers should absolutely get the service advertised and its description should be clear. That is why we have led the market with the introduction of guaranteed broadband speeds on our new Superfast packages and we were the first to abolish line rental. Fibre should mean fibre all the way to people’s homes and we look forward to offering customers exactly that later this year in partnership with CityFibre.”

Fake coffee

Industry sources, however, said the majority of Britain's network comprised 93 per cent fibre and seven per cent copper. "So describing it as fake is a bit like calling a white Americano a fake coffee because it’s got milk in it," one person said.

A spokesperson for the ASA said: “We acknowledge that Cityfibre has applied for a judicial review of our November 2017 decision on the use of the term “fibre” to describe part–fibre services.

"The full reasoning for our decision is available on our website. We will be responding to the application [for judicial review] in due course.”

BT's infrastructure arm Openreach declined to comment.

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