What constitutes broadband came into sharp focus this week in South Africa. An Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) ruling that iBurst may not advertise its product as broadband drew sharp criticism from iBurst and some consumers. But the definitions of broadband have encompassed download speeds that have been laughably low so maybe this ruling will prompt on a debate that will raise expectations.

In the consumer complaint to the ASA, Mr Soper said that iBurst misleads its customers regarding the broadband nature of its service as it can not guarantee speeds in line with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standards.

“The complainant submitted, in essence, that the commercial is misleading as International Telecommunication Union Standardization Sector (ITU-T) defines the minimum speed for broadband as being between 1.5 and 2.0 megabits/second, and the respondent does not have a guarantee that it can offer such speed at all times,” the ASA website states.

The iBurst radio advertisement essentially says “…Get iBurst now. It’s fast wireless broadband internet and email”. ASA says in the ruling that a broadband connection, at the very least, should deliver a minimum speed of 256 kbps. This is in line with the recently released ICASA ADSL regulations, but interestingly enough ICASA said that their ADSL broadband definition does not really apply to wireless broadband.

“ICASA submitted, inter alia, that its regulations on ADSL do not apply to wireless internet. Wireless internet is currently unregulated. Accordingly, the definition of broadband in the regulations should be viewed in that context and has a limited application,” the report states.

ICASA however seems somewhat confused regarding the definition of broadband, and despite defining broadband as having a minimum download speed of 256 kbps in the ADSL regulations, it advised the ASA to use the yardstick of 1.5 Mbps to 2 Mbps as the characteristic of a broadband connection.

“It [ICASA] cautioned against extending the existing definition of broadband to wireless Internet. There is an effort by the government to develop a national policy on broadband and until such a time, it is of the opinion that the best yardstick would be to refer to the ITU definition on broadband,” the report says.

Why wireless broadband connections should abide by ITU standards while ADSL services can be many times slower and still be considered broadband is unclear.

 From the feedback received from iBurst the ASA said that there is no evidence that they can guarantee a minimum speed of 256 kbps and must therefore withdraw their broadband claims.

“The respondent advised that its maximum speed is 1Mbps, but remained silent on its minimum speed. From the material before the Directorate there is therefore currently nothing before the Directorate to show that the respondent is capable of delivering a minimum speed significantly faster than a traditional dial up connection, or a speed of 256 kbps,” the ASA says. According to the ruling iBurst must withdraw its broadband claim and the claim may not be used again in its current format. iBurst is not very happy with the ASA decision, especially since the nature of a broadband service is that they generally do not guarantee minimum throughputs at all times.

“It seems strange that MyADSL’s ‘Broadband Provider of the Year’ could be prevented from calling itself a broadband Internet service,” said Alan Knott-Craig, Jnr, MD of iBurst. “This serious aberration amongst the ASA’s usually sane rulings is regrettable because it has implications for every other broadband provider in South Africa. It should be obvious to the Authority that no operator anywhere on the planet can guarantee a minimum download speed qualifying as broadband 100% of the time,” Knott-Craig continued.

“The download speed experienced by some subscribers could be zero kilobits per second when a particular base station is offline, but this doesn’t mean the service we provide is not broadband. The ASA alluded to international definitions of broadband, without understanding that iBurst is an international wireless broadband standard and is defined as such by regulators in the applicable countries,” the iBurst MD concluded. iBurst sent an appeal to the Authority last week and iBurst expects the ruling to be overturned shortly.