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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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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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