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Thursday, June 26, 2003
GET BROADBAND (but ignore fine print)
By TOMOKO OTAKE
You may have already tuned out the incessant commercials by broadband Internet service providers on TV, in magazines and on the Net, but the Fair Trade Commission is tuning them in.
In response to complaints that the advertisements mislead consumers, the FTC conducted a five-month probe into the promotion frenzy by major ISPs, especially in regard to their asymmetrical digital subscriber line services.
The FTC announced the results Wednesday, and guess what? Those ads haven't always been completely forthcoming.
One sales pitch compared ADSL and dial-up connections by saying the difference is comparable to flying via airplane as opposed to walking. The FTC deemed it misleading because it ignored the fact that ADSL connections can slow down at times.
Another provider ran a TV advertisement that appeared to be offering a free service. The commercial shows a huge "0" followed by "for three months" in smaller, harder to read text.
An even smaller disclaimer, "which is too small for a viewer to read within the duration of the commercial," according to the FTC, informed users that they would be charged separately for equipment and installation.
In another incident, a provider touted a "two-month free-trial campaign" for first-time users, without clearly stating that the offer is good for little more than a month in instances when a customer applies for the service at the end of a month, the FTC said.
However, the FTC stopped short of naming specific providers in Wednesday's announcement or deeming their acts as illegal.
The consumer watchdog said it has requested an ISP industry group to rectify the problems and plans to revise existing guidelines for ISPs to make it clear such acts are not permissible.
If the situation does not improve, the FTC may take stronger action, such as issuing a cease-and-desist order to problem firms.