Broadband News

500MB usage allowance passes ASA unlimited test

How the Advertising Standards Authority defines unlimited is made clearer by its latest adjudication on an advert by Vodafone.

An advert for claiming "Don't get left in the dark. Unlimited Facebook on Vodafone. Make the most of now." featured a footnote outlining that the web browsing pack had a monthly data allowance of 500MB, and a fair use policy also applied.

Some twenty one complaints were received because they felt the data allowance contradicted the use of the word unlimited. It was also expressed that an allowance of 500MB was a significant limitation on the service.

Vodafone replied that previously the product had been described as unlimited with a 120MB allowance. In terms of usage it also revealed that a very small percentage of people using mobile web browsing exceeded 500MB in the month, the vast majority using less than one tenth of the allowance. Those who did exceed the monthly allowance were simply asked to moderate their usage.

The ASA has rejected the complaints based on the above information, with their full assessment reproduced below.

Not upheld
The ASA noted all the ads made clear that a fair-use policy applied to the service and the level at which the allowance was set. We noted the information provided by Vodafone demonstrated that only a very small proportion of their customers had exceeded the fair-use policy limited and that action was likely to be a request to moderate their usage in the first instance. We acknowledged that the vast majority of customers used only a small amount of the available allowance and concluded that the existence of a fair-use policy did not contradict the claim "unlimited mobile internet".

Extract from ASA adjudication

The description of the 500MB allowance in the advertising, would seem to really be the trigger level for the fair use policy. Adjudications like this do give the green light to carefully worded advertising for broadband products claiming unlimited when in effect they are potentially worse performing than a product with a clearly defined usage limit. It is interesting to see the usage data from the Vodafone service, which suggests that many are perhaps just using mobile handsets for occasional web browsing, rather than replacing more traditional broadband services such as cable and ADSL.


So the ASA thinks that a service is 'unlimited' as long as hardly any of the users hit the limit.

Doesn't that just encourage ISPs to kick users off as soon as they breach the limits of the service? That way they can claim that none of their users experience any limits :)

  • AndrueC
  • over 12 years ago

So this would reign in the same region as O2 unlimited O2 to O2 calls or unlimited texts which are limited to 2000 minutes/2000 texts. But apparantly thats unlimited.

I've decided to stop complaining to ASA with these items. Instead, I'm lobbying the Queen to remove the word unlimited from the English language.

  • 1stnotice
  • over 12 years ago

As a comparison, I note that T-Mobile no longer claim that their similar Web n Walk package is unlimited; the actual 1GB limit is clearly mentioned.

They also have offers with unlimited texts which, as far as I can make out, are actually unlimited. So fair play to them!

  • toots66
  • over 12 years ago

I'm not comfortable with use of "unlimited", it isn't. With more smartphones being sold, a greater variety of data-heavy apps (video, audio streaming, podcasts) it's getting easier to hit 500Mb.

I have Xseries silver, and 500Mb is probably the most I've used, but I don't do much of the above.

This is misleading.

On a related point I haven't researched the competition, but with all these FUP the principle should be the supply of soft warnings about limits. No per Mb charges etc. Must be a fixed price unless a modification is agreed.

  • planetf1
  • over 12 years ago

ASA is tended to defending for the business rather than the consumer nowadays. Vodafone claimed that "In terms of usage it also revealed that a very small percentage of people using mobile web browsing exceeded 500MB in the month, the vast majority using less than one tenth of the allowance. " Who know the truth? They can just make up the whole story. I am strongly suggesting to remove the term "unlimited" from any advertisment. Why not just state the allowance clearly? I would rather to stay with a honest and reliable provider.

  • rian
  • over 12 years ago

I have a 3g mobile phone with a 250MB data allowance with unused rolling over for a mnoth. Doing mobile web browsing and picking up email I rarely get above 10mb a day and most often use below 5MB. However on the odd occasion i am in say a hotel and use the phone as an internet modem for my laptop I have used 50 to 80 mb inan evening. I am happy with my contract as it fits my usual use. However if I was regularly using the phone as a laptop modem 500mb per month would certainly not be unlimited.

  • pmgreenwood
  • over 12 years ago

andrueC I think your point is quite excellent, how does the ASA know that codafone simply haven't been or planning to kick of heavier users so they can simply say but most our customers use below 500meg, the ASA should stick to hard facts and the dictionary meaning of the word, not trying to help companies sell products.

  • chrysalis
  • over 12 years ago

Doesn't setting a usage limit when a service is advertized as "unlimited" not come under "The Trades Description Act 1968"?

The following is taken from Trading Standards Central website

  • g-bhxu
  • over 12 years ago

"What does the law require?

Any descriptions of goods and services, given by a person acting in the course of a trade or business, should be accurate and not misleading.

It should be noted that to commit an offence, the description must be false to a material degree, e.g. has a significant impact on a purchaser’s ability to enjoy and/or use the goods/services, or a significant effect on their value. The Act is not intended to cover insignificant inaccuracies; ultimately only a court can decide what would constitute a material degree......

  • g-bhxu
  • over 12 years ago

.....What does the law say in relation to the description of a service?

The Act also makes it a criminal offence:

to make a statement which is known to be false or misleading"

  • g-bhxu
  • over 12 years ago

LMFAO so lets get this right.... You can advertise unlimited, when people point out it isnt unlimited you can say oh but not many exceed the not unlimited quota in a month (probably without prove) and the ASA is happy... Do the ASA know the meaning of the word unlimited or even a word in their own title of "standards"... One has to wonder!!!

  • over 12 years ago

500MB isn't much - if there is good hsdpa coverage (which voda don't have), that's around 19 minutes flat out. Let's see how much the average iPhone user is using.
I have seen desktop facebook pages download over 2MB of data on my phone over wifi. This is not something you'd want to do with a 500MB limit.

  • ChrisRedpath
  • over 12 years ago

If you use "mobile broadband" as things stand, you're an idiot or a business user.

  • Dawn_Falcon
  • over 12 years ago

small business user here (the business is small, not me).

I'm on T-Mobile's unlimited USB Stick plan... It still says "There are no hidden charges or extra costs on our plans, no matter how much you go online" on their site. "Massive 10GB fair use amount"

  • brett7
  • over 12 years ago

Another pointless regulator with an apparently pathological dislike of consumers. I might be a bit out of date, but I thought the definition of an OK ad was "legal, decent. honest and truthful". If that's the case it should fail on 50% of the counts as a dishonest and untrue definition of 'unlimited'.

Advertising certainly is legalised lying.

  • carrot63
  • over 12 years ago

The ASA are obviously not fit for purpose and should stick to the advert meaning: not the company blurb....unlimited should mean unlimited no ifs ands or buts...

Just another quango thats toothless like ofcom

  • Aqualung
  • over 12 years ago

Seems this is annoying a lot of people:,139101819,49299000,00.htm

  • ian9outof10
  • over 12 years ago

Mmmm And there's me thinking "Unlimited" meant "Without limits".
Does the ASA know the address of their local Watersons, who have a vast range of dictionaries, including the Oxford Concise. Maybe some bedtime reading for them??

  • kevinx
  • over 12 years ago

There really isn't much point complaining on these boards as the ASA won't take any notice.

Why not take some positive action?

I make a note of the surnames of all the senior staff on bodies I believe are corrupt/biased. Should I then encounter an individual with the same surname I give them crap or no service/interaction.

If enough people did this those abusing their positions would think twice before taking such action as it would impact on their family.

As long as you don't target the individuals directly you won't fall foul of the harassment laws.

  • kenb
  • over 12 years ago

Unlimited? Mmm... I think I'll give the word to my wife to see what she makes of it.. I mean, after all, the other day she said she thought the word 'Infrequent' meant 'more often' Perhaps ASA know my wife? That would explain why they have a different meaning to the word 'Unlimimited' than the rest of us! See

  • collinc
  • over 12 years ago

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