In a decision concerning a recent Compaq ad campaign in England about the Year 2000 readiness of its products, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) yesterday issued a final report rejecting an earlier complaint by Y2K auditing company Prove It 2000.
In a statement, Compaq said the decision by the standards body marks a clear vindication of Compaq's advertising on products which are ready for the Year 2000 and the company's commitment to supporting customers during the millennium date change.
Prove It 2000 said it was discouraged about the decision and questions the actions taken by the ASA before the final decision, but added that it is happy that the issue of Y2K compliance of the Real Time Clock (RTC) has been raised.
Although the decision by the ASA is final, it follows a series of draft decisions by the authority that in at least one case upheld one part of Prove It 2000's complaints.
As earlier reported, the British company last year filed a complaint with the U.K. advertising standards body over claims by the PC maker that its machines are fully prepared for the millennium.
Prove It 2000 filed the complaint after its tests showed that Compaq's PCs do not pass Year 2000 tests for many functions, particularly the workings of the internal, or real-time, clock. If a Compaq machine is left on during the century change, the BIOS rolls over correctly, but the real-time clock does not, the company said after tests.
The British firm then submitted a complaint to the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority, claiming the computer maker was engaged in false advertising because it says its machines are fully prepared for the millennium. Press reports in the United Kingdom said the ASA is still investigating the case and a judgment won't be issued for some time.
The PC maker stuck by its machines and the National Software Testing Laboratories standard under which they are tested. However, the British firm, Compaq, and industry analysts have entered into a debate over whether NSTL's definition of compliance goes far enough.
However, according to ASA documents obtained by CNET News.com, the organization found that although the authority "understood from expert advice that virtually all commercially available software took the date from the BIOS, direct interrogation of the RTC was generally discouraged."
The ASA said it understood, however, that a significant proportion of available software was not ready for the year 2000. The authority accepted that the hardware of Compaq computers was ready for the year 2000. It considered, however, that advertisement readers would understand the ad to mean that Compaq computers would not suffer disruption after the year 2000 no matter what software they were running.
"Because the advertiser could not substantiate such an absolute guarantee, it considered the claim was unjustified," the ASA stated in one draft decision last October. "The authority asked the advertisers to moderate their claims in the future."
What followed is highly disputed between the two parties. Both claim the other complained to the ASA that the draft decision needed to be broken into parts.
According to Richard Coppel, the chief executive of Prove It 2000, the ASA went back and made the change. But when the body returned, both parts of the decision backed Compaq.
"We're confused," Coppel said today. "They originally approved our complaint. Then they broke it up into two parts?Now they don't. It doesn't make any sense to me."
Compaq's senior manager of worldwide public relations Alan Hodel said he didn't know about any changes made in the ASA's decision process, but did acknowledge the breaking up of the decision into two parts. He said it was Prove It's request to do so.
Asked if he knew why an earlier decision by the ASA was changed in the end, he said " I can't comment on their internal decisions. There is nothing comparable to that body over here in the states."
Because software manufacturers, to save space, used only the last two digits to mark the year, at the turn of the century many computers may mistakenly read the year 2000 as a meaningless "00" or 1900. That could cause those computers to malfunction or shut down.
Despite Prove It 2000's assertions, the British standards body sided with Compaq.
"The authority understood from expert advice that virtually all commercially available software took the date from the BIOS and direct interrogation of the RTC was generally discouraged," the ASA stated in its decision, which is available on its Web site. "The authority accepted, therefore, that the hardware of Compaq computers was ready for the year 2000 and did not object to advertisement on this point."
ASA went on to explain that the advertisers said they meant the advertisement to highlight only the Year 2000 readiness of their hardware. They assumed that, because Compaq was widely known as a hardware company, readers would take that meaning. The authority accepted that the advertisement would be seen to refer only to the hardware of the advertisers' computers and did not object to the advertisement on that point.
"We're extremely pleased that ASA recognizes Compaq PCs are ready for the Year 2000," Ronnie Ward, vice president and general manager of enterprise solutions at Compaq, said in a statement. "The sole message of our advertising that Compaq PCs are ready for the Year 2000 as tested by the NSTL YMARK2000 hardware test is accurate."