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Virgin Media forced to drop “unlimited” broadband ad claim

by Mark Tyson on 27 March 2013, 16:00

Tags: Virgin (NASDAQ:VMED), British Telecom (LON:BT.A)

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The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has stepped in to ban Virgin’s “unlimited, no caps” adverts as they are “misleading”, according to the adverts watchdog. It was discovered by heavy users of Virgin’s broadband service that downloads speeds may be cut by 50 per cent following a certain threshold of usage or cap. The complaint against Virgin was made by Sky, BT and a member of the public.

ASA Says

The ASA reasoned that a service characterised as “unlimited” should only ever be subject to “moderate” restrictions, if any.  It was judged that Virgin Media’s policy of reducing certain users’ speeds by 50 per cent, if certain data thresholds were exceeded, would not be considered as “unlimited” by an average customer. Even though the affected number of users was very small, around two per cent, a service targeted and likely to appeal to heavy internet users should not use the claim “unlimited” as this is “misleading”.

In a further complaint about the Virgin broadband service the “no caps” claim was singled out. “Virgin Media's traffic management policy reduced users' download speeds by 50% if they exceeded certain data thresholds and we considered that this was an immoderate restriction to the advertised ‘unlimited’ service. We therefore concluded that the claim ‘Unlimited downloads Download and browse as much as you like with no caps and no hidden charges’ misleadingly implied that there were no provider-imposed restrictions on a customer's ability to download data” wrote the ASA.

The watchdog concluded that Virgin’s advert “must not appear again in its current form.”

a different Virgin Media ad

Virgin says

Virgin was quick to point out that the 50 per cent throttling and the cap would only be applied to a few heavy internet users and that “97.7% of their customers would not be affected by the traffic management” according to Think Broadband. Also a Virgin Media spokeswoman told The Guardian that “Our customers receive unlimited, superfast broadband and, even if they're one of the tiny minority traffic managed for a short period of time, Virgin Media customers can download more than other 'unlimited' services, including BT Infinity”.

Think Broadband received an update call from Virgin late this morning. It seems that Virgin Media has modified the download throttling amount to a 40 per cent reduction, applicable in a few weeks. The new thresholds and terms are available here. (Summarised in the table below).

Apparently the new 40 per cent throttle is being judged by the ASA as being a “moderate” reduction in download speed so we can expect some new Virgin Media “unlimited, no caps” ads shortly. It must be noted that the new terms above, still contain quite severe uploading throttles, up to 75 per cent at peak times.

HEXUS Forums :: 24 Comments

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“Unlimited”, that's a word that gets abused far to often. Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett also stated back in 2008 that Net Neutrality is rubbish (not sure if I can say that word? haha). This company are the enemy. Avoid them.
Pretty comprehensive table though, how many other providers publish something like that?
Despite this decision, how the ASA consider unlimited to have any meaning other than unlimited is beyond me.
And is Sky “truly unlimited” too does anyone know ?
The politest thing that can be said about the ASA is that it is staffed by a complete bunch of t##ts. Unlimited has an ordinary dictionary definition - without limits.

Whether or not most people would recognise the limits is not the point. If something has limits it should be illegal to advertise it as “unlimited”