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ASA Bans UK ISP BE Broadband from Using Unlimited Downloads Claim

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 (12:35 am) - Score 1,149

Internet provider BE Broadband (aka – BE Unlimited), which is now owned by BSkyB (Sky Broadband), has been told by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that they can no longer claim to offer “unlimited downloads” after the ISP threatened to disconnect customers that make heavy use of their service.

The matter appears to stem from a situation that cropped up in February 2013 after BE allegedly terminated the service for one of its customers due to their “excessive” usage (here). The ISP are also known to have warned 224 users about similar usage concerns.

Today’s ruling by the ASA confirms that BE sent warning emails “to those people who [had] used more than 150GB of data in a month on an exchange with more than 80% utilisation” and two of those swapped ISPs after the warning. BE also said that it had NOT “limited anyone’s usage or suspended anyone’s access automatically for excessive usage“, although clearly two users felt as if they had been given no option but to leave.

Sadly customers affected by the situation, many of whom signed-up expecting a service that allowed them to “get what you want, without limits“, were initially given no clear indication about the level of usage that they should seek to maintain after the warning.

BE’s “Unlimited” Fair Usage Policy (May 2013 Extract)

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.”

At the time such measures were deemed necessary by BE in order to combat the growing congestion problems on some parts of their national UK broadband network, which had even begun to cause capacity problems for O2 and a few of their wholesale partners (here).

However BE’s decision conflicted with the ASA’s new April 2012 rules concerning the use of “unlimited” terminology (here), which state that such wording can 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 Use (FUP), Traffic Management or similar policy.

ASA Ruling (Ref: A13-221786)

The ASA considered that the claim “unlimited” would be interpreted by readers to mean that they would be able to use the service to download and upload as much data as they wished at any time without limit or penalty.

We understood, however, that users on congested exchanges using more than 150 GB in a month would be contacted and asked to reduce their usage in peak hours or face having their service suspended; we noted two users had left BE after being contacted about the FUP and that a significant number had been warned to change their usage behaviour.

We therefore considered that, although it affected only a small proportion of customers, the service was restricted for those using more than 150 GB in a month on some exchanges and was therefore not unlimited. As a result, we concluded that the claim “unlimited” was misleading.

As a result the ASA has ruled that BE can no longer promote their broadband service as being “unlimited“. Other ISPs have also been known to threaten disconnection and today’s ruling will no doubt give some of them a strong reason to review their promotions.

It’s worth pointing out that the new owner of BE and O2’s fixed line broadband business, Sky Broadband, has been offering “truly unlimited” downloads for the past few years and have also scrapped their Fair Usage Policy (FUP). So far BE has not yet adopted the same approach but no doubt Sky has the capacity to support it.

A spokesperson for Sky Broadband advised ISPreview.co.uk that BE’s situation occurred before it took over the reins, although they view the ASA’s intervention as helpful and called for “there to be absolutely transparency about whether unlimited claims come with any traffic management” (this is obviously a benefit to Sky’s own “truly unlimited” solution as well as to consumers).

Furthermore Sky also said that they’d made some unspecified changes to BE’s website but pointed out that, in the longer-term, this would become a moot point as customers should eventually be migrated over to their own “truly unlimited” platform.

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar Phil

    Sky is a horrible nasty company for broadband

    • Avatar phionex

      hi there i was with be there for 14 months and all I DID EVERY OTHER WEEK IS RING UP ABOUT MY BROADBAND GOING DOWN so i went to sky FIBER BROADBAND AND BEEN WITH THEM 14 MONTHS AND ONLY HAD TO RING THEM 4 FOUR TIMES and i did my order on line yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees he he

  2. Avatar keith

    The threats by BE to boot people and 14 days notice had nothing to do with Sky.

  3. Avatar Greg

    Looks like they’re still flouting the ASA ruling, as the BEthere.co.uk website is still listing their
    top-tier broadband services as Unlimited, with the text … “Get what you want, without limits,
    and with a fair usage policy that is actually fair”. What sort of action can the ASA take,
    if BE keeps those misleading service claims on their website for much longer?

    • Avatar keith

      Not much more they can do, HOWEVER if you original complainants as well as new ones contact Ofcom informing them of what BE are doing and what the ASA decision was they are liable to force them to then remove it, failure to comply then will mean a big fine, much like Talk Talk have had in the past.

      Then again the rude, egotistical mob behind BE probably will not care now as it will be Sky, the new owners left to pick up the tab for their misdoings.

      The only good thing is the BE with its under performing product that lies about its under performance, blaming anything and everything except there selves is finally dead and deservedly so.

    • Avatar cyclope

      seems to be http://www.oft.gov.uk/ who can impose a fine on companies failing to comply

    • Avatar keith

      Yep writing to them also would be a good idea. The only way likes of BE will learn is the hard way, first the exit of customers than the pocket.

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