Advertising Internet Speeds: Can You Handle the Truth?

In The Wall Street Journal online, Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy writer and blogger, analyzes the numbers behind advertised versus actual broadband Internet download speeds, and government efforts to measure what the consumer receives compared with what is promised by the ISPs.

In his posting entitled, "How Speedy Are High-Speed Internet Lines?", Mr. Bialik examines the issue of whether statistics derived from a report commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission ( are used in a way that is meaningful to consumers when evaluating the offerings of Internet service providers.

Notably, Mr. Bialik’s article also compares the approach taken by the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) in measuring the speeds offered on the other side of the pond, which maintains the panel of tested carriers in secret to prevent any "gaming" of the test process and system.

Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum is quoted in the posting in connection with some of the legal issues that arise when statistics and factual information contained in government or other reports are used in advertising. Truth (facts) may not, as in the case of defamation, be an absolute defense.

The government may feel that consumers can’t handle the truth. Or at least the truth, depending on the context and the manner in which it is used in advertising. When, for example, can statements that are literally true become false or misleading? As has been previously noted in Legal Bytes, using old facts can be deceptive and misleading when facts are outdated and new facts are available, or when the old facts clearly don’t apply.

In some cases, even current facts can be misleading. If I advertise that an article will be posted on Legal Bytes once a month and I post two, can I claim that Legal Bytes beats its own advertised promise to consumers by double? If you and I enter a race and I win, can you advertise that I came in next to last and you came in second? Is that true? Yes. Is it misleading? Yes. I’ve omitted facts that are material to the information quoted and that are material to the context for you to evaluate.
The truth, after all, is not always that simple and I am grateful for that. As in the words of William Jennings Bryan: "If it weren’t for lawyers, we wouldn’t need them."