Virgin Media broadband advertising has drawn an unusually high number of complaints, with 20 from the public and both Sky and BT complaining about 'unlimited' claims in adverts and also the claim the service has 'no caps'.
The complaints range over a period of time, but we believe they were made after a previous ruling where Virgin Media was told it could only keep advertising if its traffic management was implemented in a moderate manner, this led to some rearrangement of the traffic management, but as our poll back in April showed the 30% and 40% reductions this resulted in were still not what the public considered moderate.
"Virgin Media explained that even where their customers were under traffic management, they could continue to carry out typical activity at or close to their normal connection speed. They said that was relevant to the speed of the service they were using as opposed to the potential headline speed. For example, a cable customer under traffic management on their 30 Mb/s service would have more than sufficient bandwidth to complete the streaming of BBC iPlayer in HD at a reduced headline speed of between 18 Mb and 21 Mb (the resulting speed having been reduced by 30% to 40%). They explained the customer's normal connection speed was unaffected in respect of the activity and their usage was not hindered or prevented."Part of the Virgin Media presentation to ASA
The new judgement is pretty lengthy with Virgin Media attempting to justify its STM system as a moderate system, and interestingly they prefer to compare it to the ADSL2+ services rather than the FTTC based products, when FTTC is a lot closer in terms of headline speeds.
"We noted Virgin Media's comments that the correct data to consider was the distribution of average peak-time speed as a proportion of advertised maximum speed for ADSL2+ products. However, we considered that it was appropriate to use the average actual consumer experience across all technologies (ADSL, ADSL2+, cable and fibre), which we considered reflected broadband use in the UK, as an objective measure on which to base consumers' likely expectation of the service. Although the headline speed is important, we considered that consumers were more likely to base their expectations of a service advertised as "unlimited" on how it performed in terms of variations in speeds during the day in actual use, rather than in comparison to the headline speed stated in the ad."Extract from ASA ruling
The end result appears to be the new STM levels where download speeds are reduced by 10% or 16%, which should mean advertising of unlimited downloads is within what the public and industry consider moderate. The advert people though need to be careful to avoid promoting unlimited use of the upstream side of the product which is still subject to hefty reductions in speed.
The ASA ruling does not cover this, but from our years of seeing people going through the process of buying a broadband service, we suspect that people are much more tolerant of slow downs in service due to what others are doing, than a provider imposed sanction. In theory congestion at peak times should be a very variable experience, unless a provider has so little capacity available that as soon as the kids are home from school through till when people finally put down their tablet that their local capacity or a region node is saturated for hours on end.