The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld a complaint made by Carphone Warehouse and told BT to ensure in future that they did not refer to the internet calls included in their new 18-month package as free. Carphone Warehouse had complained about three national press adverts for BT Total Broadband.
a. One ad stated “Total Broadband … Free UK Evening and Weekend calls over the internet … BT Broadband from £9.95 for the first 6 months”. Small print at the bottom of the ad stated “… 18 month term … New customers only …”
b. A second ad stated “BT Total Broadband A more complete broadband experience from just £9.95 a month for six months* … Free UK Evening & Weekend calls over the internet with BT Broadband Talk …”. Small print at the bottom of the ad stated “*Introductory price for option 1 achieved via £48.24 credit on your first bill. £17.99 a month from month seven. 18 month term”.
c. A third ad stated “BT Total Broadband. With BT Total Broadband you can get more out of the internet through the BT Home Hub. BT Total Broadband gives you … free evening and weekend UK* calls … UK*Local and national calls. Excludes non-geographical calls (0845, 0870) other exclusions apply”.
Carphone Warehouse, who believed the internet calls were an inclusive part of new Total Broadband packages offered by BT, thought that the claims “Free UK Evening and Weekend calls over the internet” and “free evening and weekend UK calls” were misleading.
BT claimed that since the end of June 2006, they had given new subscribers to their Total Broadband packages the choice of a 12-month or an 18-month contract, whereas they had previously been able to have only a 12 month contract.
BT said, because it was fundamentally the same as the existing 12-month contract but included different pricing options and additional features such as internet calls, the 18-month contract was not a new package. They argued that the internet calls were a free part of an existing package. They said internet calls were offered to all BT customers without charge, regardless of which package they subscribed to.
The ASA considered that, because the contract length in the 18-month BT package was of longer duration than that in previously offered packages and was therefore more onerous on the consumer, it was a new package. The ASA considered that the internet phone calls were an inclusive part of that new package and that they should therefore not be described as “free”.
The ASA concluded that, because ads (a) and (b) were aimed at new customers for the 18-month contract only, it was misleading to describe the calls as free in those ads.