Court rules Optus coverage ad was misleading

Optus must take down ad claiming network coverage comparable to Telstra.

The Supreme Court of Victoria has ruled that Telstra was right to complain about an Optus ad claiming the reach of the Optus network was nearly the same as the Telstra network.

Telstra won an injunction against Optus, forcing the competitor to take down an ad that said the Optus network is less than 1 per cent smaller than the Telstra network.

"The Advertisement, in part, is directed towards the issue of coverage of Telstra’s mobile network and Optus’ mobile network," the court said in its decision.

"The dominant message conveyed by the Advertisement in this regard is misleading."

The court held over a decision on whether to award damages or to force Optus to issue a correction.

Telstra had taken Optus to court for allegedly exaggerating the coverage area of the Optus network in a TV ad. However, Optus had responded that the dispute comes down to Telstra missing the point of its ad, which first aired 29 January.

Optus claimed it was talking about the percentage of population reached, but Telstra said the ad misled consumers into thinking the comparison was about geographic area.

While population reach percentage is similar between the companies (99.3 per cent for Telstra, 98.5 per cent for Optus), the Telstra network (2.3 million square kilometres) is more than two times as large in area as the Optus network (1 million square km).

Telstra and Optus got in a few last-minute barbs after the decision came out.

“While we’re disappointed in the court’s ruling, Optus remains committed to the strength of our network,” said Optus vice-president of corporate and regulatory affairs, David Epstein.

“We have been consistent and transparent in how we communicate the less than 1 per cent difference in the population reach of the Optus mobile network compared to Telstra’s, and these clear facts have not been in dispute.”

“Today’s battle has been about how you portray network reach, but what Telstra is really afraid of is a discussion on price.”

Telstra celebrated the decision as “a win for consumers.”

“Optus has been caught out misleading Australians by implying their geographic network coverage is similar to Telstra’s,” the telco said in a statement.

“We’re upfront about the extent of our network coverage because we know it’s an important consideration for anyone choosing a mobile plan.”

“Curiously Optus has since removed information about its geographic coverage from its consumer Web pages. Geographic coverage matters to Australians – after all we don’t spend our lives at home. It’s time for Optus to be upfront about the geographic coverage it offers.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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