Boost Mobile told to stop ad claims for 4G LTE unlimited data, streaming

Boost Mobile has been told to stop advertising messages that say it offers unlimited data, as well as SD and HD streaming for its 4G LTE plans.

The National Advertising Division (NAD) made the recommendations after a challenge by AT&T, finding Boost’s unlimited claims couldn’t be verified because of throttling after reaching monthly data limits, or fixed by new disclosures.    

Boost, now owned by Dish Network, will stop the unlimited streaming-related advertising but plans to appeal NAD’s ruling on unlimited data.   

AT&T had challenged Boost for its “Unlimited Data, Talk & Text” claims, asserting that the prepaid brand’s 4G LTE data plans are throttled to 2G speeds once a monthly data cap is hit. For the “Talk & Text” portion, NAD sided with Boost, saying the company was able to support its message.

RELATED: T-Mobile, Dish go to battle over Boost, CDMA

However, NAD, a division of the BBB National Programs, had numerous issues with Boost’s ‘unlimited’ claims in other areas, noting consumers can’t use their smartphones for many standard activities that require data usage once they’ve been slowed to 2G speeds. It also took issue with how Boost made consumers aware of that information (“you will be reduced to 2G data speeds for the remainder of the month”).

“At 2G speeds, many of today's most commonly used applications such as social-media, e-mail with attachments, web browsing on pages with embedded pictures, videos and ads and music may not work at all or will have such significant delays as to be functionally unavailable because the delays will likely cause the applications to time out,” NAD stated in its decision.

So only things that use minimal data, like emails without attachments (or previously mentioned talk and text) would be functional.

Boost can’t make a fix with new disclosures, according to NAD, because the message sets the consumer’s expectation for unlimited data – so a note explaining a data cap would contradict the main claim.

NAD provides an arena for self-regulation and resolving advertising disputes, which are not uncommon amongst competitors – particularly as carriers battle over 5G network superiority.

RELATED: T-Mobile again advised to stop 5G reliability claims, can keep touting coverage

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have all found themselves on at least one end of a challenge, and complying with or appealing NAD recommendations related to their own 5G advertising. The process isn’t always swift though.

On Thursday NAD issued another finding, again over a challenge from AT&T but this time against Comcast over Xfinity Mobile advertising related to 5G service and availability.

This challenge was still pending in October 2020, during which time NAD noted that Comcast (which rides on Verizon’s network via an MVNO agreement) added low-band 5G service available in 1,800 cities covering 200 million people.

That was when Verizon launched its nationwide 5G, with the help of dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) – coinciding with the debut of first 5G-capable iPhone.

RELATED: Verizon vs. T-Mobile: NAD issues mixed ruling on advertising claims

At the time AT&T took up the complaint though, one of which related to an Amy Poehler commercial, Comcast’s (via Verizon) 5G wireless service was only available in select parts of certain cities. Verizon was focused on millimeter wave deployments at that point, which had extremely limited coverage.

AT&T, meanwhile, first launched nationwide 5G in July 2020, when it turned on low-band spectrum and offered 5G in 40 new markets, covering 205 million people.

Ultimately NAD determined certain disclosures Comcast made at the time about the limited 5G availability were sufficient but wanted aspects of the commercial with Amy Poehler modified such as more clearly displaying that a 5G-compatible device is required.

In an advertiser’s statement Comcast said it would comply but also pointed out that, “because the advertised 5G services is now broadly available nationwide, Comcast understands that disclosing the limited availability of 5G service is no longer necessary.”