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AT&T Won't Stop Lying About 'Fake 5G'

from the zero-actual-oversight dept

Big wireless carriers haven’t been exactly honest when it comes to the looming fifth-generation wireless standard (5G). Eager to use the improvements to charge higher rates and sell new gear, carriers and network vendors are dramatically over-hyping where the service is actually available, and what it can actually do. Some, like AT&T, have gone so far as to actively mislead customers by pretending that its existing 4G networks are actually 5G. AT&T took this to the next level last year by issuing phone updates that changed the 4G icon to “5GE” on customer phones, despite the fact that actual 5G isn’t really available.

Sprint sued AT&T last year for being misleading, but the suit was settled (likely so Sprint could focus on its merger with T-Mobile) without much coming of it. AT&T’s competitors also complained via the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division (NAD), which is a “self-regulatory” system designed to help companies settle disputes without the involvement of regulators. After a year of bickering and appeals, NARB (the enforcement arm of NAD) finally ruled last week that the practice was misleading and the ads should be discontinued:

“Agreeing with NAD?s findings and recommendations, the NARB panel determined that both claims will mislead reasonable consumers into believing that AT&T is offering a 5G network and recommended that the claims be discontinued. At NAD and on appeal, it was not disputed that the AT&T network is not a 5G network. The NARB Panel agreed with NAD?s analysis and concluded that the term ?Evolution? is not likely to alert consumers to the fact that the service is not 5G. The Panel noted that the current prevalent technology in wireless is 4G LTE, and LTE stands for ?evolution.? Thus, consumers may well interpret ?Evolution? in the challenged claims as signifying that AT&T?s technology has already evolved into 5G.”

AT&T says it will stop using the ads (months after they’d already aired), but there’s no indication that AT&T will stop using the fake 5G icon on user phones, because the icons themselves aren’t technically ads:

“But AT&T said the NARB’s recommendation only applies to its advertising and therefore will not affect the one element that really matters: Its service icon…”

Again, such “self regulatory” systems are usually designed to pre-empt actual, tough actual regulatory enforcement, often to the detriment of confused consumers and the truth. I’ve lost track of the times over the last decade NAD doled out a dainty wrist slap months or years after the misleading advertisements have aired, be they false claims of nationwide wireless coverage or bogus ISP claims about the availability of fiber. With the FCC all but an absentee landlord in the Trump era, there’s simply no accountability for misleading your customers provided you’re even marginally clever about it.

In this case, AT&T can keep pretending its 4G network is 5G, right up until actual 5G is made available to those customers. But the industry’s efforts to misrepresent where 5G is and what it can do have a major downside the industry has chosen to ignore: it “teaches” consumers to associate 5G not with better service, but with hype and disappointment. And with studies showing that US 5G is actually far slower and spottier than many overseas deployments, there’s going to be a lot of disappointment to go around.

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Companies: at&t, better business bureau

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Comments on “AT&T Won't Stop Lying About 'Fake 5G'”

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10 Comments
TasMot (profile) says:

This Will Probably Come Back to Bite Them Later

So, I’m a fictional AT&T customer. I have my little AT&T phone in hand and I decide it’s time to get a new phone. I walk into the AT&T shop and start looking at phones. The salesperson starts touting the WONDERS of 5G, it is so fast, it will cure cancer, it will auto-magically drive your car for you. And, here is our newest most wonderfullest 5G phone for just an extra million $$$ a month you can be one of the few that actually access the 5G network. And said customer looks at their current phone at the 5G symbol on it, and the "other" phone they were looking at and sees that it also says 5G on it, and so then says to the sales rep, I’ll take this cheaper one and not pay extra for that 5G phone and plan because "SEEEEE" I already have 5G and it is not faster and this here cheaper phone also gets 5G and is a lot cheaper. Give me the cheaper phone and plan please. NOOOO, stop lying to me about how much better that 5G phone is, "SEEEEE" this one has 5G also, I’ll take this cheaper one and the cheaper phone.

Why on earth would they want to convince their current customers they already have 5G? There’s no need to upgrade if the customer already has it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It ll be 2 or 3 years before 5g is widely available most people are very happy with 4g if they can get a good signal its good enough for streaming audio podcasts or YouTube. Lying to customers is a bad idea,
it, ll be hard to convince people to pay extra for real 5g if they have an old phone with 5g on it. For various reasons various company’s hold different parts of the spectrum
it, ll be very difficult to build a really fast 5g network in America,
The fcc is weak its unlikely to force company’s to share spectrum or sell it
to competing company’s who may need it
to build a fast 5g network eg
One that’s a lot faster than 4g networks
5g network in

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