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Australian providers taken to task over misleading websites
Wednesday 22 November 2006 09:47:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Particularly since the launch of rate adaptive products (the up to 8Mbps services) by the unbundling operators and BT Wholesale in the UK the number of queries about the speed of service someone should get has risen. It seems Graeme Samuel who is the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken broadband providers in his country to task over lack of information on potential speeds of service and misleading/deceptive conduct.

The article on ComputerWorld.co.nz reads very like the concerns many have about the way broadband is marketed in the UK. The success of this marketing is perhaps summarised in the Ofcom consumer research that showed 70% of people still thought they had an unlimited connection, and a great many had no idea of the speed of their connection.

There are some resources like the BT availability checker that will be give you an estimate of your line speeds under ADSL, and the ADSL2+ provider Be will give you an estimate when ordering. Beyond this though there are much harder things to find out, for example do you order a service from a provider with a 50 GigaByte (GB) usage limit or go for the one promoting an unlimited product(*), another alternative is that some say they have limits but that these are not fixed, i.e. will change from month month but never define the values. The (*) being a note saying the unlimited product has a fair use policy, but this very often gives no indication of what is fair use, some providers may define this as being we start to slow you down if you go above 20GB of use until your connection almost stops working at 30GB, whereas another provider may define fair use as 200GB in a month, but they rarely tell you this. Is this fair to the consumers - we don't think so, but also it is not fair on those providers who are brutally honest about what you can do and publish easy to understand information on their limits.

In a market that is flooded with technical terms one can understand some dumbing down of marketing material, but there needs to be a better way to allow consumers to compare products. One solution may be for a ban on the use of the word unlimited on providers websites and marketing material, with the maximum usage allowed always being expressed as a figure. Even this though will be difficult to police, since with traffic management a provider may set a 50GB monthly limit, but manage one type of traffic to the point you can only do perhaps 30GB of traffic over the course of the month.

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