T-Mobile US is not locking in prices for its 5G home Internet customers despite what its marketing material implies, the US advertising watchdog ruled, requesting that the telco modify its Price Lock claim.

Following complaints from the operator’s major rival AT&T, the National Advertising Division has recommended that T-Mobile US either make changes to its ad campaign on Price Lock or pull it altogether.

The case is straightforward enough: despite what its name suggests, Price Lock does not actually mean that customers’ prices are locked in. The small print – in print, online and TV adverts – states that T-Mobile will give customers one free month of Home Internet service should it decide to raise prices. And quite clearly that is not the same thing as a price lock, without the capitalisation.

“To avoid conveying a misleading message, NAD recommended that T-Mobile discontinue the ‘Price Lock’ claim or modify it to explain, as part of the main claim, that ‘Price Lock’ is a policy that promises customers a free month of home internet service if T-Mobile raises the monthly price and the consumer promptly notifies T-Mobile that they are cancelling their service,” the NAD said, in a statement.

The NAD is part of BBB National Programs, an independent, non-profit organisation that oversees more than a dozen industry self-regulation programmes in the US with the aim of setting high standards for the advertising and privacy practices of business. AT&T made its complaint via Fast-Track SWIFT, an expedited process designed for single-issue advertising cases. As such, this is not a legal decision, but nonetheless, T-Mobile told the NAD that it will comply with the ruling.

The telco remains convinced that it was not at fault though. It told the NAD that it believes the advertisements AT&T complained about “appropriately communicate the generous terms of its Price Lock policy.”

While a free month of home Internet is not to be sneezed at, it is not as generous as T-Mobile’s initial Price Lock offer.

The telco changed the terms of Price Lock in January this year. Customers signing up before the 24th of the month were given a guarantee that T-Mobile would not raise their rate even if it hiked prices for new customers. Then it switched to the one free month version instead. That change came just days after the operator – very quietly – increased prices on its 5G Home Internet service, as CNET spotted.

The Price Lock applies to a number of T-Mobile tariff plans, and it has increased prices on many since changing the T&Cs. But it seems AT&T only complained about the advertising on Home Internet.

Home Internet is a 5G-based fixed wireless access (FWA) offer that has become something of a growth driver for T-Mobile in recent months. The operator reported 405,000 net customer additions in the first quarter of the year, taking its total subs base to 5.2 million, at a time when most wired home Internet providers in the US are bleeding customers.

The firm recently moved to broaden that customer base by introducing an entry-level FWA plan known as Home Internet Backup, which is aimed at customers that experience regular outages on their fibre or cable connection, in areas affected by hurricane season, for example.

5G-based FWA Internet services remain fairly niche in the US, but they are growing quickly, with T-Mobile at the head of the pack. As such, rival players are watching closely and – as this case shows – will not let craftily-worded advertising campaigns slip through the net. And ultimately, having access to clearer information is good for consumers.

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