Skip Navigation

So what is better than 'unlimited' in marketing material?
Friday 16 March 2007 11:43:54 by Andrew Ferguson

People complaining about advertising using the word unlimited is on the up, and to this extent the referral engine uSwitch published a press release stating that it felt fair usage policies aren't fair.

So what is the problem with fair usage policies? The main complaint is that they are often very woolly, and do not give people any guidance to what sort of usage would break the rules. The solution? It seems simple, force providers to publish a clear figure below which people will not fall foul of any fair usage system. This carries an unwanted side effect. The vagueness in the policies and how they are implemented can allow people occasionally to exceed what is considered fair.

Of course if the word 'unlimited' is not allowed, other words such as 'uncapped' or longer vague phrases that mean just as little will appear as broadband providers compete to make their service look more attractive than a competitors. Generally the usage issue is a marketing thing, as the average usage is still in the 5GB to 10GB (GigaByte) range. Put it this way, if addicted to online games you will probably only manage 20 to 30GB of usage per month if you never sleep. Therefore, a couple of hours a day is not going to equate to a huge amount of usage. Yes, we are aware that usage patterns are changing and video over broadband is going to make a bigger impact as 2007 progresses. In theory, the price cuts by BT Wholesale happening soon and planned for 2008 should help to offset these usage increases.

One broadband provider has apparently altered its marketing since the uSwitch statement, although as of 8:30am on Friday 16th, the Toucan website still lists their products as 'unlimited * fair usage policy applies'. The uSwitch listing shows it as uncapped or unlimited with fair usage policy applying when comparing providers. So while the PR side appears to have made a change, it has not reflected itself elsewhere yet.

Of course, broadband providers can easily claim unlimited or no fixed limits with their products by making use of traffic shaping to control usage, and slow people down as their usage increases well beyond the average. Where this becomes blatantly unfair is if you have a provider using shaping to impose an approximate usage cap that is a lot lower than other providers. E.g. a provider with a 40GB limit will look poor value compared to one advertising 'no fixed limits'. However, if people find it almost impossible to reach 40GB of usage over the course of a month, then the provider who is the best value suddenly alters.

An E-petition has been started over at calling for a stop to the description of 'unlimited' where it is subject to further controls. If enough people sign this, then it may show that it is more than just 1 or 2% of broadband users concerned about things like fair usage policies.

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Insist that OFCOM and the ASA stop Broadband Providers advertising 'unlimited' services that are in fact limited in the small print or by un-defined fair use policies.

E-Petition opened by Kevin Peel

On a final note before everyone assumes fair usage policies are a UK only thing, The Register has a story about secret caps imposed by cable broadband provider Comcast in the US.


Posted by CARPETBURN over 10 years ago
Why doesnt offcom crack down on this?? They cracked down on providers giving us punters MAC issues, they should do the same with this. All it would take is a Guideline saying "IF a user is not permitted to use their connection at its MAXIMUM possible speed for 24 hours a day CONTINUALLY throughout any billing month then the provider must make it CLEAR how many hours a day they are allowed to use the FULL potential speed of the service they are subscribed to" cuts out all the cap lark, cuts out all the traffic managing lark, and would make it clear for users
Posted by keith_thfc over 10 years ago
Couldn't agree more.
Posted by herdwick over 10 years ago
Not sure its an OFCOM thing, more ASA perhaps ? Personally I like the FUP approach is at allows flexibility, if the ISP is forced to declare a limit that everyone can run to all the time then its going to be a lot lower than typical FUP limits.

FUPs allow the top few % to be controlled so that the average use is sustainable. This is better than limiting everyone to the average which would be much more restrictive in practice. With an FUP I can have an occasional burst of high use, but not with a cap.
Posted by meldrew over 10 years ago
"Unlimited" "25% free" "from" Its not just the ISPs everyone is at it! All selling is done with a view to take as much money from the customer as possible in return for as little as possible. I thought the ASA were responsible for all this?

Most ISPs have done themselves irreparable damage recently. As a 5Gb a month man I have just spent three months with evening download speeds like a 56k modem. All of a sudden it works again with no explanation. I'm in no mood to forgive or forget!
Posted by keith_thfc over 10 years ago
Herdwick said:

"FUPs allow the top few % to be controlled so that the average use is sustainable."

No - that's just the marketing guff some of the ISP's trot out to try and fool the masses.

Go check out the AOL forum and you'll see plenty of customers on an "unlimited" package being throttled at peak times regardless of their usage.
Posted by wifigeek over 10 years ago
scrap this "unlimited" and "fair usage" policy garbage. because that is exactly what it is. clearly defined limits of what each provider will allow is the way to go.

if you cant offer a genuine unlimited or uncapped service, do not put it down as such. vague policies can be changed on a whim and do not benifit the end user in any way whatsoever.
Posted by rian over 10 years ago
I would say FUP, AUP.. are some kinds of cheating to users. For some providers, you may even not able to find out how much allowance you will get under those policies. The best way to solve this is to force them to clarify the allowance on their advertisements rather than hidden it in a small printed T&Cs paragraphs.
Posted by rian over 10 years ago
Also, I think the best way to solve the bandwidth problems is to purchase more rather to restrict and that kind of usage restriction is really restricting the progress of broadband development in some ways. Just have a look on Japan, South Korea or Hong Kong. Their providers are rarely put restrictions on their product. What they did is either truely unlimited or have a usage allowance for a fixed price, this is much more clear for users.
Posted by rian over 10 years ago
To be honest, if you tell your friends living in foreign country about the FUP or traffic shapping things, they will just lol as those things have been kicked out by their providers for ages.
Posted by herdwick over 10 years ago
keith_thfc - Throttling all the time is another tactic to make the demand fit the supply, other ISPs just cull the heavy users with the FUP.

Different ways to achieve the same thing.

Several hundred packages on offer, if you don't want a FUP or traffic management pick a package with a fixed limit or PAYG - not too hard really. Half the packages on offer are 12 month or more contracts but the other half aren't.

Why do we have to dumb down the market to a common level of stupidity ?
Posted by _TRIaXOR_ over 10 years ago
Petetion Signed..

Saying unlimited but fup applies is totally misleading to the consumer and should be banned.

Posted by CARPETBURN over 10 years ago
Quote TRIaXOR=Saying unlimited but fup applies is totally misleading to the consumer and should be banned.

That sums it up in as short a way as possible, well said.
when 90% of these ISPs say a FUP applies if your useage is "heavy" we may cap/throttle/traffic shape you, they should be made to say exactly what "heavy" use is, we can all argue to the cows come home on what we think "heavy" use is, but if the provider doesnt tell you, then techincally "heavy" use or "light" use CANNOT exist as there is nothing to define what the use of those words mean.
Posted by rsharma over 10 years ago
Who needs unlimited in reality? A small minority and they buy it because it is advertised as such so of course it's unfair to sell unlimited, no fixed limits or other such nonsense if they have no intention or ability to provide it. Traffic shaping and throttling connections just makes comparisons impossible to do.
Posted by herdwick over 10 years ago
"Who needs unlimited in reality? " - people who have variable use and don't want to work within a low fixed cap or a variable payment. "Unlimited" does not have to mean "infinite use" but "use without a limit at which it stops working".

You don't have to limit everyone to the average in order to control the average.
Posted by rsharma over 10 years ago
I would have to disagree. People that don't want to watch how much they use and are one of the vast average users would easily survive within 10GB or even 20GB. Therefore an ISP trying to offer unlimited could offer this package and a normal consumer would have what amounts to unlimited.
Posted by arundel over 10 years ago
Chances are 'average' users would manage to survive with 10-20GB at the moment (as I myself do, being with Zen), but that really is "at the moment". As more bandwidth intensive applications and services become the norm this figure could start to look a little on the stingy side before too long...
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 10 years ago
Make the advertisers put "subject to FUP" or the exact GB cap on the service in GB in the same font and size as any mention of "unlimited".

That'll sort THAT.
Posted by cymru57 over 10 years ago
It has taken me seven months of "consultation" with (now media) to get 1meg. Never an offer of compensation or how to go faster!
Posted by xela over 10 years ago
If ISPs said something like 'no fixed usage limits' plus one or more of:

- Surf the web as much as you like
- Listen to your favourite podcasts
- Buy as much music instantly online
- Unlimited high performance online gaming
- Make unlimited free VoIP phone calls
Etc, etc

Customers would get a pretty clear idea of what to expect..
Posted by kenneth_lad over 10 years ago
The issue over the use of the word "unlimited" doesn't just apply to the number of gigabytes downloaded but - more importantly - to the way some ISPs are now throttling customers' connections for any sustained download activity. This is irrespective of usage level and in some cases includes http downloads.
Posted by electron44 over 10 years ago
The answer to all of this is very simple.Charge for internet usage in the same way as gas or electricity.A fixed standing charge, plus x pence per gigabyte downloaded.ISP's could then compete on unit cost,standing charge or even increase/decrease the cost the more you use.
Posted by chrysalis over 10 years ago
I dont pay a fixed charge for my gas and electric, if it were to go purely PAYG really monthly subs shouldn't be charged thatrs having it both ways.

So either fully PAYG no monthly subs.
Monthly subs with an inclusive allowance or unlimited (proper unlimited)

Some isps do provide unlimited properly my isp does it with its unlimited off peak there is no limits whatsoever off peak, they achieve this by charging a viable price.

If you see a unlimited product for a low price it is probably too good to be true unless its a low speed product.
Posted by SteveToplek over 10 years ago
In the current situation with more & more services becoming available online ( tv, video, films to legally d/l etc), usage is going to increase.Any limits are going to become even more restrictive, and a lot of people are going to be signing for services where they don't understand what the limits mean. A meaningfull set of criteria for usage has never been more necessary. Some ISP's have been abusing customers for far too long and the marketing is full of half-truths, deceit & downright lies. Time for it to end.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 10 years ago
Electron, that is precisely what the lower BW services offer. At £2.50-3.00 per GB, typically. Great, pass - I'd rather have a 1MBit service for £30/month I can USE rather than a 3-4MBit one for £15 a month I can't.
Posted by The_Baker over 10 years ago
Tiscali have an UNLIMITED connection, which isnt, I was put on the F.U.P which completelt ruined my connection at all times, 3 - 4 kb at times. i emailed them countless times but still havent had a reply. I have upgraded to the upto 8mb connection, which again has a F.U.P, they still wont tell what the limit is between 6-11 pm, so how are we supposed to know how much we can use!!! TOTAL MUPPETS!!! AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH
Posted by rjohnloader over 10 years ago
Did you know that the Advertising Standards Authority will not get involved where the misleading claim is on the supplier's own website. You have to buy the product the go to Trading Standards unless you can find paid for advertising on someone else's site. So take any claim on any ISPs website with a pinch of salt as the advertising industry seems to think it is OK to lie on a website - so long as you don't pay anyone else to do it for you
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.