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ASA Ban Misleading Unlimited Broadband Claims on UK Satellite ISP Avonline

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 (7:48 am) - Score 627
avonline_broadband

It’s well known that Satellite ISPs can place strict Traffic Management style measures on their Internet access services and now the Advertising Standards Authority has stepped in to stop one provider, Avonline Broadband, from promoting the products alongside “UNLIMITED” usage claims on their website. Other providers take heed.

A complainant told the ASA that the ISPs “UNLIMITED” claims were “misleading” because they felt that Avonline’s Fair Access Policy (FAP) often resulted in a “more than moderate impact” on customers that exceeded the operators data thresholds (i.e. heavy data throttling can sometimes have a big impact upon service speeds).

The complaint makes particular reference to the controversial 20Mbps capable Tooway™ Absolute service, which was first launched in January 2013 (here) and then withdrawn during July 2013 (here). Eutelsat’s ISPs always planned to take the service off the market after 20,000 customers had joined, but at the time there were also complaints about congestion on the operator’s network.

ASA Ruling (REF: A13-239088)

We noted the ad’s emphasis on the above claim and were concerned that it might be interpreted as offering a broadband service that was not subject to any limits, when that was not the case owing to the speed restrictions imposed during the day. Although we acknowledged that the second part of the claim attempted to qualify and explain the reference to “unlimited”, we considered that such a strong and absolute claim as “unlimited” could not be qualified, unless the advertisers could demonstrate that any restrictions imposed were moderate only.

We noted in Avonline’s response, that a small proportion of customers had their speeds reduced as a result of exceeding the data threshold of 60 GB, and even during periods of traffic management, were able to continue web browsing as normal and downloading at a reduced rate. However, we considered that the average consumer would not expect a service described as “unlimited”, to impose an FAP whereby traffic-managed consumers would only achieve 50% of the average speeds attained by non-managed customers during peak network hours.

Because Avonline had attempted to qualify an “unlimited” claim and not demonstrated that the restrictions they imposed were moderate only, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.

Similar FAPs are also adopted by every other Eutelsat (KA-SAT etc.) based ISP, although all have since returned to placing a general cap on daytime data usage. Never the less there are other Satellite ISPs, usually on different platforms, that still promote full “unlimited” services. Related ISPs will now need to be more careful so that they don’t impose aggressive traffic throttling on services that are promoted as “unlimited“.

As usual the ASA banned the advert and once again this will have no real impact because the damage was done a long time ago, although it might serve to discourage others from continuing to make the same mistakes and misrepresenting the capabilities of their products to consumers.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. To be honest, if the impact of the FUP only reduces the speed by 50% once the threshold is reached then that is MUCH closer to a true unlimited service. Afterall, still being able to download at 10 Mbps on a, presumably “up to” 20 Mbps service is not that bad.

    Having said that, having a threshold as low as 60 GB on a service marketed as unlimited in today’s world seems a bit odd.

  2. In a lot of cases I recall seeing speeds reduced to near dialup levels so the actual picture can be much more extreme.

  3. Avatar MikeW

    But were those “near dialup speeds” a consequence of traffic-management, or a consequence of congestion on an over-sold service?

    I got the impression, last summer, that it was all about congestion.

    I understand why satellite ISPs feel the need to market something labelled “unlimited”, but it is never going to be possible on a shared bandwidth platform. Saying “this is as unlimited as we can make it, given the restrictions of the technology” is a bit of a mouthful.

  4. It can often be a combination, with some satellite ISPs still considering 64Kbps to be the low throttle level. Both outcomes ultimately come down to the same issue, capacity.

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