The advertising watchdog has asked Bharti Airtel to "modify appropriately or withdraw" the TV commercial and website advertisement by April 11, 2017, where broadband tester Ookla declared Airtel as the "Fastest Mobile Network" in India.
However, Bharti Airtel said it disagrees with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) decision and said the company will file an appeal as per guidelines. Ookla said it stood by its conclusions. The complaint to ASCI was made by Reliance Jio, Airtel's main competitor.
"The TVC and web-site advertisement contravened Chapters I.1, 1.4, I.5 and IV.1(b) of the ASCI Code as well as ASCI Guidelines on Disclaimers Clause I. The complaint was upheld. We have advised the Advertiser to modify appropriately or to withdraw the said TVC and the website advertisement by 11th April 2017," ASCI stated in a letter to the complainant.
ASCI's role is limited to self-regulation and the body cannot enforce any of its decisions on advertisers. But it sends its reports to several ministries.
The ASCI decision was taken by its Fast Track Complaints Committee (FTCC) at a meeting held on March 29, 2017.
"The FTCC noted that the claim by the advertiser is not specific to 4G technology whereas the TVC has visuals with reference to 4G. The speed comparison visual also has a reference to 4G in the notification bar and shows poor signal strength for the other service provider. The FTCC considered this representation to be misleading by ambiguity and implication," ASCI stated.
It said while the advertiser submitted an Ookla certificate, "they did not provide an explicit test methodology to substantiate that the method is robust... and is representative and comparable across operators, geographies and consumers."
It said that the FTCC referred to the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) website with respect to the coverage of Airtel vis-a-vis Reliance Jio and "noticed that there is a significant gap between Geographical dispersion of Airtel and Jio 4G subscribers which could impact the comparison".
"Based on this data, the FTCC concluded that the claim was not adequately substantiated and the basis of comparison has been so chosen as to bestow artificial advantage to the advertiser."
The FTCC also said the term "officially" used in the advertisement to be misleading. It said: "...as this test is not based on any government organisation or recognised authority such as TRAI in this category, and hence, exploits consumer 'lack of knowledge'."
Disagreeing with ASCI, Bharti Airtel in a statement said: "We do not agree with ASCI's decision and will file an appeal as per guidelines. Our campaign is based on findings by Ookla - the globally recognised leader in mobile speed tests and also a benchmark for reputed global operators."
It said it had shared all supporting facts with the ASCI and "strongly believe that our campaign is compliant with all guidelines. We will be happy to provide more details, if required, and hope ASCI will reconsider its decision."
Ookla said it stood by its award: "Ookla fully stands behind the accuracy and reliability of the methodology used to designate Airtel as 'India's Fastest Mobile Network'. The award designation was validated using the IP methodology described above for all speedtest results during the last six months of 2016 (Q3 and Q4)."
It said that when analysing the data for 2016, Airtel was the clear leader. "When analysing data for 2017 to date, Airtel is still the clear leader. It is worth noting that after correcting for the Android limitation, Airtel's lead over Jio increases for all aforementioned date ranges," it added.