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Virgin Media’s “Misleading” Unlimited UK Mobile Data Claims Banned

Wednesday, Apr 1st, 2015 (8:17 am) - Score 3,151

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that Virgin Media misled consumers by claiming that they could get “Unlimited data” (Mobile Broadband) on one of their mobile 3G SIM-Only tariffs, except that customers who exceeded 3.5GB of data in any 30-day period found that their speeds were throttled to just 384Kbps (0.38Mbps).

The claims, which were made on various Virgin Media website pages, referenced the operators £20 per month VIP Plus Tariff. In fairness Virgin did attempt to alleviate some of the usual advertising concerns by adding small print that stated how customers “should expect speeds delivered up to 384kbps (3G), actual speeds experienced may be higher or lower and will vary by device and location.”

But several people challenged whether the claim “unlimited data” was misleading and could be substantiated, particularly because the quoted speed of 384Kbps generally only applied after they had used more than 3.5 GigaBytes of data in any 30-day period (i.e. speeds could drop from several Megabits per second). Virgin Media said that only 2% of their customers ever hit this restriction, although that wasn’t enough to satisfy the ASA.

ASA Ruling (Ref: A14-282566)

Recent Ofcom research, published November 2014, on mobile broadband speeds, indicated that the average 3G speed delivered to smartphones was 6.1Mbit/s, and that that speed did not vary significantly between providers. The ASA therefore considered that Virgin customers were likely to receive similar average speeds to that, rather than the “384kbps” referred to in the small print.

Given the speeds we understood consumers were likely to achieve before the restriction, we considered that they were likely to notice the drop in speeds once the restriction was applied, as had a number of the complainants. We considered that a reduction in speed from an average we understood to be approximately 6Mbit/s to 384kbit/s once the limit was reached, was more than a moderate reduction.

Because we considered the limitation imposed on speeds to be more than moderate, we concluded that the claim “unlimited data” was misleading.

It’s particularly interesting to see the ASA going beyond the advertising claim itself in order to investigate what service is actually being delivered, although we’re not convinced that Ofcom’s data is extensive enough in order to be relied upon in this way. Equally Virgin Media did cover their bases by only promising “up to 384Kbps” and so technically they haven’t breached that pledge.

Never the less the ASA banned the advert and once again told Virgin Media, much as it has had to do oh so many times before, “not to claim that a service was ‘unlimited’ if the limitations that affected the speed or usage of the service were more than moderate“.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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