Why Comcast Is Dropping Its Fastest Internet Service Brag

February 9, 2017, 3:58 PM UTC
Inside Comcast Corp. Headquarters Ahead Of Earnings Figures
An employee demonstrates the Xfinity app at Comcast Corp. headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. Comcast Corp. is scheduled to release earnings figures on October 26. Photographer: Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Charles Mostoller — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Who can claim to offer the “fastest Internet speed in America” or the “fastest in-home Wi-Fi”? Tough to say, says the National Advertising Review Board, but it’s not Comcast, at least based on the crowd-sourced data the cable company used to back its advertising tag lines.

Comcast said it will drop the tag lines, under protest, after a panel of the review board agreed with a complaint from competitor Verizon Communications that the claims were not sufficiently justified.

The cable company, which is also the largest single provider of broadband home Internet service, said it relied on self-reported speed test results from its customers on the Speedtest.net web site run by Ookla. The fastest 10% of Comcast customers reported download speeds of at least 104.6 megabits per second, tops in the industry and better than Verizon’s top 10% who got at least 83 Mbps, according to Ookla.

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The problem was that Comcast’s claim for its Xfinity Internet service was too broad, the ad panel concluded in a decision recommending that the cable company drop the language.

“The panel determined that one of the messages reasonably conveyed by the challenged ‘America’s fastest internet’ claims is that Xfinity had overall internet speed superiority in all tiers of service that it provides,” the board said in a statement. “The panel further determined that the challenged advertisements reasonably conveyed a message that Xfinity delivers the fastest download and upload speeds.”

On the Wi-Fi issue, the board noted that Comcast’s claim was based on offering the fastest Wi-fi router, which wasn’t necessarily equivalent to having the fastest actual service.

“Because access to the Internet is primarily dictated by speed of the ISP’s Internet connection and dependent in large part on the Internet speed tier purchased by the consumer, faster router performance doesn’t necessarily mean faster wireless access to the Internet,” the board concluded. “Comcast did not provide a reasonable basis for the messages reasonably conveyed by the challenged ‘fastest in-home Wi-Fi’ claims.”

Verizon (VZ) had complained about the slogans to the National Advertising Division, a part of the ad industry’s self-regulatory system that investigates such complaints. The NAD recommended that Comcast discontinue the claims, a decision then supported by the review board, which hears appeals under the system and is administered by the the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Comcast (CMCSA) argued that the speed test data did back up its claims, but said it agreed to abide by the recommendations.

The company “disagrees with NARB’s determination that this evidence was not a good fit to support Ookla’s finding that Comcast has ‘America’s Fastest Internet,'” Comcast said in a statement. “Comcast will take NAD’s recommendations into account in developing future advertisements, and expects NAD and NARB will hold all advertisers to the same standards when making similar claims.”

Comcast and other cable companies have been winning the battle for home Internet connections over phone companies like Verizon for the past few years. Last year, Comcast added 1.4 million net new broadband customers for a total of 24.7 million. Verizon ended 2016 with 7 million total home broadband customers, 47,000 less than a year earlier.