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Three’s ‘Make The Air Fair’ campaign slammed as ‘misleading’ by the ASA

MOBILE NETWORK Three’s campaign to “Make The Air Fair” has had complaints against it upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The campaign, which featured a mixture of regional press adverts, billboards, internet display ads and sponsored Facebook posts, invited people to “Tell Sharon” (referring to Head of Ofcom, Sharon White) that they supported Three’s stand on mobile spectrum allocation ahead of 5G rollout.

“Our airwaves are up for sale. BT already own too much and now they want even more,” warned the ad during the latter part of 2016.

Londoners saw billboards that were even more explicit: “SHARON, STOP BT/EE DOMINATING OUR AIRWAVES. PEOPLE OF LONDON, GO TO MakeTheAIRFAIR.org AND #TELLSHARON”.

The ASA found that the campaign didn’t make it clear that it was funded by BT/EE competitors and found the implication that it was a separate body ‘misleading’.

Complaints from BT questioned several suggestions, most notably that its receiving of more spectrum would mean “higher mobile prices, slower speeds and worse coverage for UK consumers” and “BT/EE domination of the market”.

Three responded that the campaign was “founded by Three and supported by the companies Talk Talk, CityFibre, Gamma and Relish, and the industry body Federation of Communication Services.”

It’s worth noting that Relish, although now owned by Three, was not at the time of the campaign.

Three already had beef with BT and EE after their merger was allowed, but its own plans to buy O2 were scuppered by regulators. It had additionally already lobbied for a 30 per cent cap on BT/EE ownership of the new spectrum allocation to no avail.

The defence goes on to say that it felt that the nature and purpose of the campaign, to encourage participation in a government consultation on the sell-off, was transparent and that it would be “unmanageable” for the campaign to clearly show the logos of all those involved. Three added that by following the links to the campaign site, it was clear who was behind it.

Three also argued that its claims against BT/EE over speed and standards were “commonly recognised” by Ofcom, adding that it would happily use the spectrum it was provided with, whereas BT/EE was holding large swathes of its back for future use.

There’s pages of this stuff, but you can read it all here. Long story short, complaints upheld and ASA has told Three not to run the campaign in this form again.

In September 2017, Three launched a legal challenge against the auction instead. Vodafone has been vocal in its criticism of the appeal, claiming it will only serve to slow the process down further. µ

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