NARB Recommends AT&T Modify, Discontinue 99% Reliability Claims for its Internet Services, Approves Other Monadic Claims, Following Charter Challenge

New York, NY – August 20, 2019 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has found that AT&T Services, Inc.’s claims that its internet services delivers over 99% reliability, made in certain advertisements, are unsupported and recommended that the claims be discontinued or modified. 

The advertising at issue had been challenged by Charter Communications, Inc. before the National Advertising Division (NAD).  The 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.  Following NAD’s decision, AT&T appealed all of the NAD’s recommendations adverse to it to the NARB, the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation.

In the underlying decision NAD determined that “the over 99% reliability claim” in the challenged advertising conveys a message concerning service availability, not just network availability.  The NARB panel agreed with NAD and concluded that, given the nature of the AT&T advertisements at issue, the term “reliability” conveys a level of quality going beyond mere connectivity.  As support for its claim, AT&T submitted an analysis showing that over a period of one year AT&T’s high-speed internet services on average remained connected over 99% of the time.  However, because AT&T’s analysis did not evaluate the quality of the internet service, the NARB panel found that AT&T’s “over 99% reliability” claim (and its 99% reliability claim), when made for AT&T’s internet service, is not properly supported.  The panel noted that AT&T is free to use a modified version if, as NAD concluded, “AT&T has a reasonable basis to make its reliability claim for the specified [internet] service tiers.” Any such modification would have to clearly and conspicuously disclose the precise internet service for which the claim is being made.

The NARB panel also agreed with NAD’s determination that, in the context of the advertisements under consideration, a reasonable consumer would understand that the “over 99% reliability” claim applied to all AT&T’s technologies, including DSL.  The panel concluded that the disclaimers, such as references to “U-verse,” were insufficient to alert consumers to the limitations on the “over 99% reliability” claim.

Further, the NARB panel considered whether the AT&T advertisements at issue are monadic or comparative in nature (conveying that AT&T’s DirecTV and internet services provided superior reliability compared to competitor services).  In the underlying challenge, NAD found that the challenged AT&T TV commercials and website advertising conveyed implied comparative superiority messages, which were not supported.  The NARB panel, with one exception, did not agree.  The panel concluded that the advertising at issue in this case communicates to reasonable consumers monadic, not comparative messages.  To the extent that the advertisements communicate messages to consumers regarding available improvements in service, the panel determined that those messages are upgrade messages, directed to the availability from AT&T of faster upload and download speeds. However, with respect to two versions of the “Historic Launch” 30-second commercial, the NARB panel agreed with NAD and found that they deliver an unsupported comparative superiority claim which should be discontinued. 

AT&T stated that it will comply with NARB’s findings and that it appreciates “NARB’s recognition that AT&T can make a modified version of its reliability claim for specified internet service tiers if it has a reasonable basis to do so.”  AT&T added, “although we disagree with NARB’s findings that the Historical Launch commercials communicate a comparative message, we appreciate NARB’s conclusion that the remaining advertisements are monadic.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD or NARB to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.