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Virgin Media UK Fails to Get Sky Totally Unlimited Broadband Claim Banned

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 (7:47 am) - Score 1,411

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has rejected an attempt by Virgin Media to have rival Sky Broadband’s claim of offering a “totally unlimited broadband” package banned from its TV, press and website promotions. Meanwhile Sky succeeded in having several adverts for Virgin’s TiVo service banned.

Sky (BSkyB) has been offering an “unlimited” package, which was recently joined by two superfast “fibre” broadband (FTTC) services, for some years now. The service often makes a point of claiming that it’s “truly” or “totally unlimited” because no Fair Usage Policy (FUP), caps or other specific application restrictions are applied to customer connections.

But Virgin Media claimed that such promotions were “misleading” because the amount of data that a consumer could download would still be limited by the actual speed of the service, which can be affected by a number of factors inherent to copper ADSL based services (e.g. poor home wiring, distance from the exchange etc.). The ASA perhaps rightly disagreed with Virgin’s somewhat broad interpretation.

ASA Assessment (REF: A12-191871 )

We noted that there were inherent limitations in any network, which would limit a consumer’s actual broadband speed and therefore the amount of data that a consumer could download over a particular period of time. Some of these limitations, such as signal attenuation, resulted in a greater loss of speed for DSL services compared to fibre-optic services. However, we considered that consumers would understand that the claim “totally unlimited” referred to provider-imposed limitations, especially traffic management policies.

We did not consider that the average consumer would infer that “totally unlimited” meant the broadband service was free from the inherent limitations found in the network. None of the ads featured any speed claims but, where speed claims did appear, advertisers had to include qualifying information about the likely effect of inherent limitations on their ability to achieve advertised maximum speeds. This would include information on signal attenuation, where applicable.

Having won that round Sky (BSkyB) then successfully managed to retaliate by winning a complaint against Virgin Media, which has fallen foul of the ASA quite a few times over the past 2-3 months. In this instance Sky and nine members of the public pointed to Virgin’s claim of “Free TiVo Box activation” in several adverts (here), which was upheld because consumers noted that many of Virgin’s deals were bundles and some of the other services still required payment of an activation fee. This confusion was enough to have the ad’s banned.

Separately seven complainants also challenged whether several Virgin Media adverts were misleading because they failed to make clear that an installation fee of £49.95 applied to the TiVo service. Thankfully only one of the three adverts (a circular promotion) was banned for failing to do this.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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9 Responses
  1. Avatar cyberdoyle says:

    The ASA want to get their act together and ban all adverts which include the word ‘fibre’ as none of these services are fibre broadband. All internet access is fibre based, even dial up. It should not be called fibre based, fibre broadband, superfast fibre or any of those unless it is fibre to the home.
    Anything that comes through copper is copper broadband. End of.
    Sky, BT and Virgin are always squabbling over this, and all their adverts are misleading. No wonder the public are confused.

    1. Avatar adslmax says:

      I agree.

    2. Avatar Phil says:

      I agree too

    3. Avatar Deduction says:

      Make that 3 in agreement.

    4. Avatar Nick says:

      Virgin Media Broadband and BT Infinity is fibre to the cabinet and both provide a better service than Sky. Virgin Media Broadband has less hidden costs and jargon then BT Infinity and the bit between your house and Virgin Media’s cabinet is no older than 15 to 20 years old, BT’s wiring for some between the cabinet and your premises dates back to 60’s and 70’s as a junction box in my house states GPO, this has an impact on your broadband! and BT will refuse to lay new cable unless it has been badly damaged

  2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    As posted on TBB, using Virgin’s own logic, it couldn’t use “totally unlimited” either as it suffers from congestion on its shared coax (which is also copper wire of course), so can’t deliver the theoretical maximum amount of data either.

    And let’s not forget it uses throttling to cap heavy users, which is definitely not consistent with “totally unlimited”.

    1. Avatar Nick says:

      For them to throttle you, they must give you a warning first,by the way,sky will eventually throttle, Virgin and BT have a lot more customers and feel the need to give there businesses as much bandwith as they possibly can.

      By the way,it is fibre to the cabinet,coax is used between the cabinet and the premises.

    2. Avatar Deduction says:

      Lies like BT and their unlimited claims then, when all their products are throttled.

  3. Avatar SlowSomerset says:

    Make that 4.

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