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UPD2 BE Broadband Face Unlimited Questions After User Cut Off for Overuse

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 (8:59 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 3,514)
be broadband uk isp

Internet provider BE Broadband (O2 UK) could face questions from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after a customer on their “unlimited” use package(s) was, without warning, allegedly given just 14 days to find a new provider after the ISP terminated their service due to “excessive” usage.

The ISP has been issuing warning letters about excessive usage to some customers on already congested telephone exchanges since early January 2013, although none of the initial notices have contained any specific threat of disconnection.

Similarly BE Broadband has so far refused to clarify what level of usage customers should keep within in order to avoid disconnection from the providers “unlimited” service, which is understood to have frustrated some customers. A copy of the initial warning, courtesy of the BE Usergroup, has been posted below.

be broadband usage warning

BE does apply a “very” Fair Usage Policy (FUP) to its unlimited packages, which vaguely warns customers not to make “excessive use of, or placing unusual burdens on, the networkbut does not specifically threaten disconnection and adds that “In extreme circumstances, should the levels of activity not immediately decrease after the warning, Be may terminate that member’s services“.

Never the less BE now appears to be taking more direct action against one of its customers on the Hackney (LNHAC) telephone exchange, which is believed to be a congested location. The customer in question admits that they “used a lot of bandwidth“, probably over 1TB (TeraByte) of data during January 2013, but also claims that they never received any prior warning and weren’t given a chance to change their usage.

BE’s Termination Letter

Hello *********,

Your broadband usage is excessively high and this is having a detrimental effect on the service other members receive. This is covered in our excessive usage policy. As a result we’ll be stopping your service in 14 days. This will allow you time to find an alternative supplier.

During the next 14 days we will monitor usage and if it remains at an exceptionally high I will have to suspend service with immediate effect.

I’m sorry I have had to do this, but we have a duty to make sure all our members get the same quality of service. If you need your MAC code to move service let me know today, otherwise we will just disconnect as normal.

Kind Regards

BE also called the customer directly to explain the issue. “After 7 years of being a loyal customer I would have thought I would at least get a warning or something. I wasnt given a chance to amend my usage. The person was very polite at least and offered to help me find another ISP,” said the user.

It’s important to remember that home broadband capacity is a shared “Best Efforts” service, unless you pay extra for a business connection with dedicated supply and low contention, which means that ISPs offering “unlimited” services have to be very careful about how it’s managed and promoted. Using over 1000GB in a single month is perhaps excessive for a home service and that’s even without using a modern superfast broadband connection.

However the ASA’s related rules warn that “unlimited” or similar terminology can only be used (advertised) if the customer incurs no additional charge or suspension of service as a consequence of exceeding a usage threshold associated with a Fair Usage Policy (FUP), Traffic Management or similar policy (here). It remains to be seen whether or not BE will now be forced to adjust the language of its FUP.

On Monday ISPreview.co.uk revealed that 89% of respondents to our most recent poll still felt that big broadband ISPs were continuing to mislead consumers with their advertising practices (here). We are currently seeking clarification from BE.

UPDATE 1:02pm

BE has finally confirmed the move and furnished us with the following statement.

Chris Stening, Managing Director of BE Unlimited, said:

Our services are unlimited and genuine consumers are free to download as much as they wish. Our Fair Usage Policy is designed to protect the experience of others and avoid use that is contrary to our terms and conditions and it is therefore handled on an individual basis.”

We note they’re still calling the ISP “BE Unlimited“.

UPDATE 23rd Feb 2013

At least one of O2’s Home Broadband customers has now also been threatened with disconnection, although unlike the above BE user they haven’t yet been told to leave. Meanwhile even one of O2Wholeale’s ISP clients, AAISP, has criticised the problems with network congestion (here).

Clearly O2 Wholesale would rather kick off a few super-heavy users than annoy their other ISP clients by making them wait for new capacity to be added at related exchanges.

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37 Responses
  1. adslmax

    14 days to find a better ISP. Plenty of decent alternatives out there!

  2. DanielM

    “Using over 1000GB in a single month is excessive for a home service and that’s even without using a modern ”

    Who defines if it’s excessive or not

    1tb or 40tb or even 10GB it’s an unlimited service therefor the usage shouldnt make a difference. if they have exchange problems then they simply need to fix the echange.

    • Bob

      1Mbit run 24/7 for a month is only 324GB so to use over a terrabyte must run AT LEAST 3Mbits on the 95TH, and probably a lot more. BT wholesale charge about £40 per 1Mbit so that user cost the isp at least £1205 that month, and likely closer to 200!

    • The economic reality of trying to consume that much data over a single home connection is clearly in conflict with the ASA’s rules over “unlimited” promotions and BE’s vague FUP. On top of that 1000GB is excessive in comparison to the UK average, which is more like 15-30GB a month (depending upon your data source).

      In this case I’d say that the user is not strictly to blame because they’re just doing what the ISP claims to allow.

    • DTMark

      I agree with DanielM here. The provider is offering unlimited broadband, so if that costs BE a thousand pounds or more in losses every month then so be it.

      Either stump up the bandwidth and take the hit, which is the business model being employed, or change the way in which the product is advertised.

      Interestingly here’s BE’s “Fair Usage Policy”

      “If it’s felt that any Be member’s Internet activities are so excessive that other members are detrimentally affected, Be may give the member generating the excessive web traffic a written warning (by email or otherwise). In extreme circumstances, should the levels of activity not immediately decrease after the warning, Be may terminate that member’s services.”

      Other ISPs implement a “fair advertising policy”.

      I thought that last bit about disconnection was disallowed under the relevant legislation..

    • I overlooked the termination clause, added in above (hmm curious as I did search the page quite closely last night).

    • DanielM

      Bob

      i don’t care about any cost to the ISP. if they sell a service then they need to deliver it. not provide it with a socalled fair usage policy (Which is misleading). Personally if i ever started an isp i would sell what i can, not oversell

    • As the owner of a small ISP I have to say that I agree with Daniel here. We found out very early on that we could not realistically provide “unlimited” tiers (unless people paid for an uncontended service) and so introduced fixed monthly GB allowances – controlled by bandwidth management computers. We are very clear about the allowances, and what happens if/when they are exceeded in a calendar month (speed is slowed down to around 500Kbps for rest of the month).

    • matthew

      @Bob Be use LLU so their costs won’t be the same as BTWholesale charge for bandwidth.

      @Piers If what the user says is true BE didn’t even give them a chance to reduce their usage, you may have seen the bandwidth graph but that’s not an excuse for poor capacity planning nor for kicking someone off for overusing their unlimited broadband without so much as an opportunity to put it right.

      1TB a month is perfectly feasible thesedays, also since we don’t know which plan the user is on they could quite feasibly be on Pro which does allow business use.

      Let me put it this way, what would you do if BE decided it was one of your customers causing the problem would you support them in booting your customer with no notice?

      At the end of the day it’s the gamble ISP’s offering “unlimited” take, there were other options BE could have tried before resulting to the drastic step of just booting someone off the network completely.

  3. Unfortunately DanielM customers don’t want to pay so they only way to make a margin with consumers is to oversubscribe – it is what the industry has always done. Unless a consumer is willing to pay the necessary hundreds of pounds a month for an uncontended service there will always be an element of oversell. I have seen the usage graphs for this exchange and they are out of the ordinary I would be surprised if the user wasn’t doing more traffic than stated and it is interesting what the effect of a few users had on everyone else.

    I would like to know how exactly someone at home can legitimately use that much traffic, either they are buying a lot of films or music… To be fair to BE they are very good at allowing people to do an awful lot with their lines but that has been their problem as pipes have got congested and service hence affected.

    • DanielM

      then there asking for trouble aint they.

      customer signs up for a unlimited service. then told because he uses it he will be terminated because the ISP doesnt have the capacity to deliver what they sold?

    • DanielM

      “legitimately”

      Because he paid for the service maybe/ end of the day its simple. the customer isnt in the wrong here, the ISP is. as they failed to deliver what they sold. people like you really annoy me. just because you may use maybe 2gb a month doesnt meen we all do. there will be high usage users. and ignore that BS about 1% or 5% or what ever they come up with that’s bullshit.

    • DTMark

      I appreciate the points you make, I have no idea how someone downloads a TB or more a month other than heavy use of P2P, but the bastardisation of the word “unlimited” is to blame here. It is a “binary” word. Either it is, or it is not.

      If a provider is selling unlimited data transfer then clearly they must have unlimited bandwidth on tap.

      When that isn’t the case, a Fair Usage Policy might just entail reducing users’ speeds so they can do less damage. This is where Virgin Cable has always been.

      It’s going to get rather interesting with BT’s claim that “no matter how much you use, we’ll never slow you down” given that there are a myriad of factors with the semi-fibre solution which can slow the connection down in addition to insufficient backhaul, incidents of which are already surfacing even before that change.

      But then these are just advertising claims. For some bizarre reason this rather rotten industry appears to pander to the lowest common denominator every time, a number of smaller and more honest ISPs excepted, and the rules about advertising have a lot to answer for.

      If the customer is allowed to use the connection on an unlimited basis and is sold the product with that promise, there cannot be such a thing as “excessive use”.

    • Working in the industry I know what is available on the internet and how it can be used so I think I have a good idea on what is possible. To be fair though if it is being used 24/7 and the information being moved is legitimate then other than doing serious research or consuming a lot of media how can anyone justify such usage? There are business products which offer much better guarantees and maybe that product would be more appropriate.

      Not a particularly good analogy but if I buy a car and it can do 150 mph, one I don’t expect to be able to do that all the time, and two if I do either on a race track or in Germany I would expect to be pulled off for potentially putting other users at risk.

      I am not saying the word ‘unlimited’ is not badly used by everyone in the industry just that out of all the ISPs BE is probably one of the best by letting people do what they can. Just sometimes a few people ruin it for others…

    • DanielM

      I also work in the industry (The web hosting side/networking side)

      despite that. i still disagree. i don’t agree with selling a product i cannot provide. basically for some of these ISP’s it’s legal lies. anyone who backs them is a fool.

    • DTMark

      The car industry is probably another example. “3 year unlimited mileage warranty”.

      So if I had a team of people take said car onto a disused airfield and drive it round in a circle 24/7 for six months stopping briefly for the odd oil change and service, and the engine eventually fails, it’s covered under warranty, surely. It’s only six months old and the mileage is not relevant.

      But then the offer is predicated on people not playing “Devil’s Advocate”.

      And it probably makes clear that it covers “normal private use only”, so provides a get out clause. BE does not stipulate what the connection may be used for, indeed they appear to entice heavy P2P users:

      “We’ll never artificially reduce your speed to cram more people on a line (like some ISPs do) and we won’t throttle your access when you download certain types of files or use the internet at peak times.”

      So you can use it for whatever you like as much as you like. That’s the offer.

      Something is either unlimited, or it is not.

  4. DanielM

    “There are business products which offer much better guarantees and maybe that product would be more appropriate.”

    You my friend are a fool.

    Because the customer pays for a service and the isp does not provide you suggest upgrading to a more expensive business package?

    • Nope but as DTMark states it is about a customer taking something to its limit. I think the point is there wouldn’t be a problem if the customers actions were not affecting other customers – surely they have as much right to a working service?

      I will reiterate I agree with the misuse of the ‘unlimited’ term but it is something that has been used throughout the industry and something I wouldn’t just blame BE for. I think if anything there product is more close to unlimited than anyone else.

      Good point DTMark on the unlimited warranty, however I have only ever seen adverts that have a very nice little * next to them with the small print saying 100,000 mile limit…

      Maybe another example of misleading customers is not just in the telecom space but also on the high street – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-19817457. But my point with this as with BE is that for the vast majority ie 99% of the customers they will get an unlimited service. At the end of the day BE like most businesses can always choose who their customers are and refuse to serve any that has an impact on their business.

    • DTMark

      Agree on your last point – BE is month-to-month, isn’t it?

      In which case, the customer has elected not to make an ongoing commitment to BE and retain flexibility to change.

      And in the same manner, BE has no ongoing commitment to the customer beyond the current month.

  5. Charlie B

    Anyone that believes any claim of “unlimited” for a couple of quid is an idiot, full stop !

    ISPs will only stop selling it as this when consumers stop buying it.

  6. JSimons

    Unlimited as a marketing term will always equate to ‘Unlimited*’, nullifying any binary nature that you would normally associate with the word.

    There is a fair usage policy, there has to be. It is readily available for anyone signing a contract with them and is a fundamental to achieve these consumer prices.

    We live in an age of Ts & Cs, everything has a footnote. Anyone trying to claim otherwise clearly lives in a perfect world filled with rainbows and unicorns

    • Charlie B

      …with a gorgeous wife who can cook…

    • DTMark

      The problem with the word “fair” is that the word is subjective. What may be fair to one person is not fair to another. This is a slippery slope.

      And the problem with “unlimited *” with the * stating additional terms is that in theory I could advertise my services (web consulting) as “Free *” with the * meaning “costs from £55/hr, charities can have free service”.

      This sort of nonsense advertising should have been stamped on a long time ago.

      BE is the one singled out for analysis here, but it’s far from the only one.

  7. Darren

    Even if it is Unlimited, I think we have a responsibility not to take the piss. I always try to do large transfers off peak despite my monthly usage being bellow 200GB most of the time, BT site says average is 280GB.

    • DanielM

      I disagree.

      the whole point of paying for something that is called unlimited means there is no limit.

      You may think 200GB is alot but it’s not. infact i could do more than that on my mobile phone without 24-7 usage.

    • Bob2002

      @Darren –

      A typical usage of 280GB/month seems a bit high. The following Guardian article from 2011 gave average broadband usage as 17GB/month (with those on faster lines using more)

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/nov/01/home-broadband-download-17-gigabytes

      Personally I use around 100GB/month, all legal, mostly Internet TV.

    • Darren

      DanielM, I didn’t say 200GB was a lot.. Anyway, I agree, however if everyone took the unlimited label so literally and used 1TB+ a month then unlimited packages would dissapear. You have to be reasonable, just as the ISP is being by offering unlimited usage at a frankly rock bottom price.

      Bob2002, that average is for my account. Which I consider neither low or over the top for a family of four. BT’s old FUP limit was 300GB and we are well within that most months.

    • Stoat

      As DanielM says, it’s easy to do 200Gb on a mobile phone – Mine does that, mostly thanks to google navigation and camalert.

  8. Chayne

    Just some extra advice, put a stop order with your bank, BE love charging you. Return the modem via registered post so you have a tracking number. BE tried to charge me a few time for the modem saying I never returned it, but thankfully my bank didn’t let the transaction go through and I had my slip with the tracking number. Four months later, they finally stopped trying to hassle me.

    • Chayne

      Oh, and also take a photo of the contents of the box before you close it up and send it. They also tried to claim that I didn’t include the power adapter for the modem.

  9. Nilsatis

    I see now ‘Genuine’ in the statement is telling.

  10. Cyclope

    In the days of UKOnline which was also an unlimited ISP quiet a few reported on forums of using 1TB or more not occasionally but nearly every month, And no one was ever kicked off, in their T&C’s they where able to place heavy users who caused network issues into a pool with a higher contention ratio ,never heard about them invoking that either, But Easynet had a proper network And had the bandwidth to cope Obviously O2/BE don’t

  11. Alloneword

    Not new this one i have been hassled by O2 on at least two occasions for hogging the bandwidth and being greedy, I mean i only have a 4.5mbits line and i’m now limited to only 250GB a month and that has come from head office funny thing is they refused to put this 250GB limit in writing, for me my case goes back to may 2012, if it says unlimited then it is, simples…

    All1

  12. neptune8271

    i do 8-10Mbps constant over my be/O2 line and have done for years and never got any letters etc

  13. BE Unlimted is I believe the company registered name

  14. Chris

    Their MD has just admitted they breached the ASA regulations.

    A FUP is not allowed on unlimited products, it cant even exist, yet BE have actually invoked it, a clear breach.

    Yes BE are within their rights to have a FUP and use it but only if they dont tag the product as unlimited.

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