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Verizon and AT&T can’t stop arguing about each other’s misleading 5G advertising

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Another day, another advertising controversy involving one of the top three US wireless service providers hits the headlines, yet again highlighting the great lengths at which Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are sometimes willing to go to prove each other’s superiority over the competition.

Of course, said superiority is a relative and often highly subjective matter, whether we’re talking about 5G download numbers or overall network performance, which isn’t exactly the message directly conveyed or implied by the vast majority of commercials and publicity stunts meant to promote the continuous efforts of the aforementioned industry giants to expand their coverage and improve speeds.
That’s where the National Advertising Division (NAD) and the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) are legally required to come in, frequently settling accusations of questionable marketing behavior thrown all over the place in the extremely competitive mobile network operator arena.

Verizon on the offensive, AT&T on the defensive

Following an initial September 2020 NAD ruling in a case filed by Verizon against arch-rival AT&T, the latter carrier appealed and the former cross appealed to the NARB, which you’ve guessed it, is the appellate advertising law body of BBB National Programs.
Basically, the National Advertising Division managed to make both the number one and number three US wireless carriers unhappy with its decision five months back, which in these cases usually means the right verdict was rendered.
Unsurprisingly, the NARB didn’t reach a radically different conclusion after carefully considering both Big Red and Ma Bell’s arguments, recommending the latter discontinue or modify its challenged “building 5G on America’s best network” claim. Rather than misleading, the statement was deemed incomplete, lacking a clear 4G reference.
Essentially, what AT&T was trying to say in a number of ads based on testing performed by a company called Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) was that its market-leading 4G LTE network would be used as the foundation for the operator’s 5G supremacy of tomorrow. Interestingly, AT&T can continue to tout its 4G superiority over Verizon and T-Mobile… as long as 5G is separately referenced and its relationship to GWS is “clearly and conspicuously” disclosed.

That’s right, Ma Bell just so happens to fund the mobile analytics firm that awarded its 4G network the national gold medal, but while that could well be an innocent coincidence, customers have a right to know about the “material connections” between the two companies without needing to do any research on their own.

Just the latest in a long line of public disputes

In addition to being allowed to crow about its theoretical 4G advantage over the competition, AT&T was also found not guilty (again) of falsely disparaging Verizon when vaguely claiming “just ok is not ok” in the US wireless landscape of today.

That’s actually not a bad result for the accused in these types of matters, as both the NAD and NARB tend to side with the accusers and very stringently apply a set of rules designed to (eventually) lead to clear, transparent, and truthful marketing mechanisms for all major wireless industry players.

Meanwhile, Verizon was found guilty of an array of misleading advertising claims of its own over the last couple of years or so after being challenged by both AT&T and T-Mobile. Basically, this is another day at the office for the nation’s top carriers, and as long as different network performance testers will declare different winners based on different (or even identical) indicators, we expect this largely pointless war to continue raging on.

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