BT’s wrist slapped over 'free VoIP' advert

The Advertising Standards Agency has upheld a complaint against BT over an advert promising 'free' VoIP calls

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint on Wednesday against BT over a direct mail advert to their broadband customers promoting BT Communicator, its recently launched Internet telephony package.

The advert stated that broadband users would be entitled to "free UK calls for a year".

However, a complaint from a man in Kent scuppered the advert. He had a BT Broadband Basic package, which gave him an allowance of just 1GB per month, and the ASA found that although the promotion offered "free calls", those calls depleted this monthly allowance for data, making the term "free UK calls for a year" misleading.

A BT spokesperson said that BT had accepted the ruling of the ASA, and conceded that the complainant could only have made just over three hours of VoIP calls per month. He would not have then been entitled to more broadband usage unless he purchased more.

When asked how BT could have claimed that VoIP was free for a year when it only gave 3.2 hours free per month, a BT spokesperson explained that "it meant the offer was in place for a year — that is not misleading. BT have accepted that the wording [of the advert] was not clear and concise."

When asked whether this kind of issue could dent user confidence in the nascent VoIP technology, the spokesperson said "users will be able to see the benefits of VoIP for themselves."

However, the incident could lead people to question the economy of 'basic' broadband packages, especially with new video-on-demand and high-definition TV services on the horizon.

For future BT Communicator adverts, the ASA told BT not to describe calls that depleted a consumer's broadband usage allowance as "free" and to state prominently in adverts for BT Communicator that making telephone calls depleted this allowance.