Orcon takes a swipe at the big boys, Spark fights back—UPDATED

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  • October 14, 2014
  • StopPress Team
Orcon takes a swipe at the big boys, Spark fights back—UPDATED

"Orcon is shining the spotlight on bandwidth throttling used by big telcos, including Vodafone and Spark, in a new campaign that encourages Kiwis to look at the fine print before signing up to broadband plans that could unnecessarily be slowing then down," touts the media release from Orcon that accompanies the launch of its new campaign by Contagion and Finch featuring a plum-dressed dictator of ambigious origin removing the wig of what is meant to be the chief executive of a major telco (seemingly Spark, if the colour scheme of the faux promotional material is anything to go by).

"Bandwidth throttling or ‘traffic management’ is the slowing of internet traffic by an ISP in an attempt to regulate network costs," says Orcon general manager Mike Shirley. “It’s essentially prioritising types of traffic so at busy times of the day, like in the evening, or for peer-to-peer use, some consumers will likely notice their internet speed slowing."

According to the release, 81 percent of Kiwis (the collective market share of Vodafone and Spark) "could be having their internet artificially slowed by ISPs in an attempt to regulate network traffic and minimise bandwith costs". And while Orcon says that it refuses to do this, the statement making the claim links to a disclaimer that states: "Orcon may prioritise traffic to deal with major unexpected network congestion events."

Richard Llewellyn, the head of corporate communications at Spark, has called Orcon out for making a contradictory claim and, in a statement shared with with the NBR called the TVC a PR stunt. 

“Despite their PR claim that they ‘refuse to throttle’, in fact they 'may prioritise traffic'. From the customer experience perspective, 'prioritising traffic' and 'throttling' are essentially the same thing – slowing down some internet access in favour of other access,” said Llewellyn.

The release from Orcon also makes a further accusation that its competitors have not invested in sufficient broadband for their respective customer bases.

“If Orcon can invest in enough bandwidth to not throttle customers, it’s unfair that a large number of Kiwis who are signed up with the big telcos can’t have the full speed internet they deserve at all times of the day," says Shirley. “The big guys will claim that they manage traffic so they can offer a consistent broadband experience to all customers. Even though we are at the bottom of the world, Kiwis shouldn’t have to live with frustratingly slow internet access – if you are a regular peer-to-peer user or want to download large files in the evening, then you shouldn’t have to live with an experience slower than it needs to be."

However, the reason why Chorus is currently launching fibre across the country is in order to overcome the problems caused by the traditional copper based system. By virtue of Orcon's own disclaimer, it admits to prioritising traffic to deal with major unexpected network congestion. And although Shirley pinpoints the example of a blackout as a time when this might be necessary, there's also a possibility that this rule might apply when there is overwhelming demand for bandwidth due to a large number of Kiwis downloading a show or sporting event.

Regardless of whether this is a publicity stunt, it has managed to get the issue of broadband throttling into the media. And this move certainly comes at a controversial time for Orcon, with the ISP also unveiling its Global Mode offering in August. 

To push global mode, Orcon released a complementary TVC featuring the bum bag-wearing dictator—fanny-pack wearing for Americans or moon-bag wearing for South Africans—giving a seductive speech on the benefits of global mode. And in keeping with the global theme, the dictator appears not to have any allegiances to a particular country—a fact evidenced by his accent, which in the space of 30 seconds takes a colourful trip across the developing world.   

By pushing global mode, Orcon is inviting further controversy, especially in light of the recent PR skirmish that saw the nation's broadcasters remove two of Slingshot's ads for referring to its global mode offering.

Also, given the nature of the criticisms being levelled at Vodafone and Spark, it seems likely that they might be inclined to lay a complaint to have the ad removed.

Hilary Souter, the chief executive of the ASA, was asked whether a complaint had been laid at this stage, but she says that none have yet been processed. She explains that in some instances it takes a while for outrage to translate into a complaint.

UPDATE: Souter has confirmed that the chair of the ASA is currently processing several complaints that have been lodged about the advertising campaign. At this stage, there is no additional information available as the organisation is currently assessing whether or not there has been a breach of the ASA code. Souter says that further details will be released to the media once a decision has been reached.        

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