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Government Responds To Anti-Unlimited Petition

Posted: 02nd Jul, 2007 By: MarkJ
The petition setup to campaign against ISP's that abuse "unlimited" terminology in their broadband marketing has this afternoon gained a government response from the Prime Minister's Office:

Details of Petition:

"Many ISP's (Internet Service providers) are advertising Broadband with 'Unlimited' downloads. The majority of these services are not unlimited as in the providers fair usage policies they either cap the use at a defined amount, or use an undefined criteria that only they know."


Unfortunately anybody hoping for action will be sorely disappointed as the response merely reiterates existing regulation and related measures:

Government's response

In general, companies are free to use whatever contractual terms and conditions they consider reasonable. If prospective customers are unhappy with these they can attempt to re-negotiate the terms in question or go elsewhere. There are, however, some legal safeguards for consumers in relation to unfair contract terms.

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 provide protection for consumers when entering into contracts. Companies who deal with consumers and use standard form contracts must ensure they do not use unfair terms.

These regulations require that any written term of a contract is expressed in plain intelligible language. Consumers should be able to read and understand all the terms of the contract before they are bound by them. Consequently, contract terms which are hard to understand because of obscure wording or unreadable small print are more likely to be found unfair.

Advertising in the UK is controlled primarily by self-regulation and co-regulation under which the Advertising Standards Authority has responsibility for ensuring compliance with the British Code of Advertising Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (non-broadcast advertising), the TV Advertising Standards Code, and the Radio Advertising Standards Code. It requires all forms of advertising to be legal, decent, honest and truthful and prepared with a sense of responsibility to both consumers and society.

The Government is aware of complaints by consumers to the Advertising Standards Authority that some Internet or telephone packages are being promoted as being 'unlimited' or 'unrestricted' in some way. Qualifying an 'unlimited' claim with a fair usage policy in the small print of an ad is allowed as long as it really is fair and not misleading. For example, if 80% of domestic customers fall well within the limit specified by a broadband provider and the remaining 20% fall outside of it, perhaps because they are using a domestic package for business use, then it may be considered a reasonable claim. The Advertising Standards Authority considers each complaint on a case-by-case basis.

It may be worth noting that most ISP’s now advertise “unlimited” in terms of access as opposed to service quality, with the advent of traffic shaping meaning that heavy users are now more likely to be slowed than they are to be kicked. Meanwhile the remaining issue over vague and often misleading fair usage policies looks set to continue.
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