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ASA UK Bans Unlimited Claim in Virgin Media Broadband Ad After Sky Moan

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 (7:48 am) - Score 864

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has, following two complaints by rival Sky Broadband (BSkyB), told cable operator Virgin Media not to “misleadingly” claim that their service was “unlimited” and with “no caps” if they also imposed restrictions (e.g. Traffic Management) that were “more than moderate“.

The surprise decision, which could cause other so-called “unlimited” ISPs to adjust their promotions, appears to mark one of the first uses of the ASA’s new rules. The measures, which were introduced a year ago (here), require that terminology like “unlimited” only be used 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, Traffic Management or similar.

Crucially the ASA also expects any limitations that affect the speed or usage of a service to be “moderate” and clearly explained in any adverts. But until now the definition of “moderate” has remained somewhat vague, although apparently Virgin Media’s claim (on their website) to offer “Unlimited downloads Download and browse as much as you like with no caps and no hidden charges” goes over a red line.

ASA Assessment (Complaint Ref: A12-213114)

We noted the high speed nature of Virgin Media’s service and the emphasis of the ad on the performance and potential maximum speed and considered that the advertised service was likely to appeal to, amongst others, those consumers who wished to carry out bandwidth intensive activities, such as linking multiple devices to their connection. In that context we considered that the restriction of reducing users’ download speeds by 50% was not moderate and that any reference to it was likely to contradict, rather than clarify, the claims that the service was “unlimited”. We therefore concluded that the claim “unlimited” was misleading.

We [also] 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.

Virgin Media failed to argue its point that the average consumer’s expectation of their “unlimited” service was that they could “download as much as they liked, without incurring an additional charge or having their service suspended if they exceeded any usage threshold“. The provider also believed that 97.7% of their customers would not be affected by Traffic Management.

As a result the ASA has banned their promotion and told Virgin Media to ensure that, in future, it will only be able to make such a claim if the restrictions imposed are “moderate” or non-existent. Meanwhile Virgin Media has adjusted its 50% throttle to 40%, which is apparently enough to satisfy the ASA.

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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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