So what is better than 'unlimited' in marketing material?
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 petitions.pm.gov.uk 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.