Verizon pulls misleading ads claiming its 5G service is ‘necessary’ for firefighters

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Verizon has agreed to pull 5G advertisements claiming its new network was “built for” firefighters and first responders, after the National Advertising Division and the Better Business Bureau began looking into the ads following complaints they were misleading.

The decision, first reported by Ars Technica, follows Verizon’s announcement earlier this week that it would be expanding its low-band 5G coverage to tens of millions more customers in the US, in conjunction with the launch of Apple’s new 5G-ready iPhone 12 line.

The ads in question, however, predated Verizon’s nationwide 5G rollout and began airing first as part of a 5G Super Bowl ad campaign. The campaign touted Verizon’s supposedly speedier network technology as purposefully designed for firefighters and first responders, as well as for music and education purposes. Ars Technica reported some of the specific language used in the now-removed ads, as part of a script intending to convey a message from a real firefighter:

When I’m going into a fire, usually when you open the door smoke is down to the ground, it’s pitch black. Time is really of the essence in a structure fire because it can mean life or death. With 5G, we’re going to be able to stream the video that [firefighters are] getting through their mask back to a command center and stitch those videos from multiple sources together to provide greater situational awareness. 5G Ultra Wideband is necessary for all of these applications to work.

The primary issue, of course, is that until this week, Verizon only offered limited mmWave coverage and only in certain urban markets, meaning that ultra wideband 5G would not likely be any more useful to a firefighter than standard LTE. Competitor T-Mobile challenged the claims made in the ads in complaints to the NAD, and the NAD now says Verizon preemptively agreed to discontinue the firefighter and first responder-specific ads instead of weather a full review. (The music and education ones were not found to be in violation.)

“Verizon committed to permanently discontinue its ‘5G Built Right for Firefighters”’ and ‘5G Built Right for First Responders’ advertisements and the challenged claims made therein. Therefore, NAD did not review these claims on their merits,” reads an NAD press release. In addition, the NAD is recommending Verizon alter its language when it talks about the speeds of its various tiers of 5G and when comparing those speeds to that of T-Mobile and other competitors.

Here’s what the NAD is recommending Verizon do going forward:

  • Avoid conveying the unsupported message that Verizon’s 5G service is 10x faster than home internet;
  • Discontinue the claim that its customers “don’t worry about lag” when using its 5G service; and
  • Discontinue the claim that a download that used to take 20 minutes now takes 20 seconds or modify it to make a quantified claim supported by the evidence.

The NAD is also recommending Verizon “modify the advertising to convey a message about what consumers can typically expect to achieve network-wide” and “modify its demonstrations to depict the typical network-speeds” when discussing comparisons between its existing LTE network and T-Mobile’s 5G network.

This isn’t Verizon’s first controversial dustup with firefighters. In August 2018, the company notoriously throttled California firefighters combatting raging wildfires throughout the state in a way that “had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services,” according to Santa Clara County Fire Marshal Anthony Bowden.

Verizon ultimately determined it had made an “error” in doing so, as its plans were supposed to have exemptions when providing services during emergencies. The company then committed to never throttle first responders who rely on its service in the field.

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