back to article Ads watchdog bites Virgin Media over 'con' claims

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld eight out of eight complaints brought by BT and Sky against rival service provider Virgin Media's 'Stop the Broadband Con' ad campaign. Virgin's plan was to highlight that ISPs don't deliver the broadband speeds they claim to offer, a result of the infamous 'up to' caveat …

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Megaphone

The truth hurts

See title.

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Actually

It's VM who are being the sneaky con-merchants. At least the ADSL is admittedly "up to". Virgin on the other hand usually gives you the full title speed at first, but if you happen to actually _use_ it then they'll take it away again by exceptionally hard throttling for several hours! And no, don't tell me their throttled speed is still faster than ADSL, because what I got was massive packet loss and upload speeds to rival dial-up. F that in the A.

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WTF?

Speeds...

I was on Virgin's 10Mbit/s package, which usually gave me a transfer rate of about 300-400kbytes per second for general file downloads.

Now I'm on BT's Total Broadband which is quite slow (for my line), at 8Mbit/s. I'm now getting a transfer rate of about 600-700kbytes per second for general file downloads.

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Meh

Pot ...

... kettle.

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FAIL

Virgin are complete muppets!

Their 100Mb product is touted as up to...

http://shop.virginmedia.com/broadband/up-to-100mb.html

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I'd rather have VMs idea of "up to"

VM have always used "up to" when referring to their fibre broadband offerings. However, as I've argued before, I guess VM use "up to" to cover their own butts in case of technical issues and such like, but at least they are generally in the right ball park pretty much most of the time.

On the other hand I have a friend* who pays BT for their >20Mb< service (because thats the smallest package they do), even though BT themselves, on their own website, acknowledge she can only theoretically receive a maximum of 15Mb, and even then, on a good day, she only gets between 6 and 11Mb.

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Anonymous Coward

@Shades

I pay for a 20 meg service and can barely get 3 ay home.

Whereas at work we pay for a 20 meg and get 16.

ADSL is patchy. Not good.

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WTF?

Um - what?

So - let me get this right.

One ISP telling the public they are being conned by 'up to' speeds in advertising is not allowed. Whereas the majority of the other big ISPs conning the public with 'up to' speeds in their advertising IS allowed?

Colour me confused!

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Silver badge
FAIL

It's ironic

VM do have a point about what's apparently promised often failing to meet expectations but are just as guilty as the rest are equally 'masters of spin'.

I've lost count of how many "free" offers VM have presented me with which are conditional upon giving them more money to get that "free" offering.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm...

And this from Virgin, who are allowed to describe their service as "fibre optic broadband" despite the connector in the home being copper.

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Anonymous Coward

depends where you live

some of us have that glass stuff all the way to the house

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Silver badge
Go

BT too

Given BT are also now touting their Infinity as "fibre optic" when it does the same fibre to the cabinet as Virgin

Time for a super-complaint from Which? Magazine

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Devil

Virgin are actually pretty fast

Until you hit the cap after a stunning 10 (ten) minutes of using the advertised bandwidth, and they throttle you back to 1/4 speed for 5 hours. Over 24 hours, you can (at most, under ideal conditions) use about 1/3 of the bandwidth that you think you're paying for.

I've noted this to the ASA, but they durrrrn't seem to get it.

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Yep

I have yet to figure out what VM's throttling policy actually is.  The only thing I know for sure is that it is not as-advertised.

Outside of graveyard hours they'll give you "maximum" (presumably) downstream bandwidth for a certain time - usually measured in minutes - but as you say throttling then kicks in pretty quickly, especially on torrent traffic.

For me, their uptime has been atrocious.  Constant "network issues in your area that we are aware of and our engineers are working HARD to fix".

Their customer service is total rubbish.  They're always trying to make silly semantic arguments because they are obviously used to getting away with bullshitting the average customer.  According to them, intermittent loss of service isn't really loss of service, even if it goes on for months (who knew?).  Last time I called them to "cancel" my service (i.e. get them to stop charging me so much) I remember having to argue with the guy on the other end who kept insisting there was no point in leaving VM because VM's service is better "because it's fibre optic".  In my area VM's not even FTTC.  He started off trying to tell me (in his own meaningless sales-speak) that my service was FTTP.  When I called him on that he tried to tell me it was FTTC (and that anyway FTTC was the same thing and that VM didn't really do FTTP because - no joking - "it's dangerous").  When I called him on that too he just kept right on at it: "fibre optic" this and "fibre optic" that.  In the end I just said look mate do you even know what fibre optic means?  Why are you even arguing with me about it?  They always start off all nice and smarmy but when they realise their bamboozle tactics aren't working the mask gets dropped pretty quickly.

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Thumb Down

different kinds of cons

VM's uptime is pretty good, but their customer service is total crap.

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It's not like VM have a leg to stand on...

.. what with their Superhub unable to reach reasonable speeds (especially over wireless), with their Subscriber Traffic Management cutting your speed by 75 percent on top of traffic shaping that cuts speed in half on certain protocols on top of an undocumented Fair Use Policy that threatens you with disconnection even if you stay under their published limits. There's nothing honest about the speeds you get out of a VM connection if you actually want to use the service.

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WTF?

worst of the lot

my connection rarely runs at the advertised speed, and rather than being down to real limits of the network as with Sky and BT, it's down to draconian data caps and traffic shaping.

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WTF?

I select the letter 'u' for this title

"The ASA obected to the provider's frequent implications that other ISPs deal with consumers dishonestly."

Right, because if you can't be dishonest in advertising, when can you be dishonest?

...That was their point, right?

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Thumb Down

I'm with Virgin on this one

I usually get 9.xx out of my 10meg line, and also get 976k out of the 1meg upload with Virgin. Considerably better than the upto's I got with F2S, Eclipse and BT.

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Anonymous Coward

Just binned Virgin Cable for ADSL

I have just left VM as I spent the majority of my time only receiving 25% of the bandwidth I was paying for due to the way they shape traffic. From a consumers point of view I don't care if I am slowing the Internet down for everyone else. I pay for my package and I should be able to use ALL OF IT for whatever I like and whenever I like. If the network can't cope with that level of constant data transfer, they shouldnt sell it or they should improve the capacity of their network to cope with the demands of their userbase!

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FAIL

done.... you have been

My missus was conned by Virgin while at Uni, her + housemates were told that the 8MB package wouldn't be good enough, as "the walls of the house were too thick and damp for the signal to get through", so they needed to 20MB package! Being non IT-educated types, they fell for the salesman's crap hook line and sinker

When I found out I complained several times, write to head office, recorded letters etc etc, never got so much as a call back, was furious!

Even on the 20MB package, they never got over 8MB

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I left Virgin Media a while ago

because of the customer service. I have since been with Sky and then TalkTalk.

I did get faster speeds with Virgin, but both Sky and TalkTalk advised me on the phone when signing up what speed I would be getting, and that it would be quite abit below the "upto" speed in the advertising.

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Silver badge

Are you with TalkTalk now?

I've been observing (on my site) an IP address "shadowing" users of TalkTalk and Carphone Warehouse. It originally identified itself as "TalkTalk Virus Alerts Scanning Engine". The day after I coded to block it, the user agent changed to be some sort of IE on a Windows box, but the IP address and behaviour are the same.

Namely, between 30 and 75 seconds after a user looks at something, this IP address repeats the request. Everywhere the user goes (different users, different IPs), I get a hit from the snoop.

Google for "80.40.134.120 talktalk" and you'll see what I mean.

VM's speeds might be less than truthful, and their traffic shaping (this car is a semicircle!) might be a PITA, but when your ISP is blatantly spying on you, then it's time to think about what is important - speeds or privacy? Before you respond with a so-what, bear in mind that the snoop is running on a different IP address, so somewhere, all of your HTTP fetches are being recorded, and forwarded. ALL of them. Do you use POP/SMTP mail? Is it cleartext?

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Flame

Forgive me if I sound like a Virgin Media fanboy and for the length of this post.

I have been with virgin media on and off for about 3 years. I started out on their 20mb service and when I tested it I was actually getting about 19.5mbps, all well and good. They then offered me the 50mb service and I am currently receiving about 48mbps.

I do a lot of work on people’s broadband and wireless in their houses. Those on VM tend to get what they pay for, whereas those on other service providers get extremely varied results. The only client I have EVER seen on an ADSL line, get their full speed, lived less than 200m away from the local exchange in my town. All others tended to max out at around 3-6mb regardless of what they paid for. I even had to suggest to one client to phone their ISP and switch to a lower subscription because it was impossible to increase their speed to what they were paying for.

Their traffic shaping is not too difficult to discern. If I use the full 50mbps (6.3 megabytes per second actual throughput, including overheads) I can only sustain that for about 20-30 minutes before my bandwidth is throttled back to half (25mbps or about 2-3 megabytes per second). Although, if I then use another type of downloader, say windows update, then I can use the remaining bandwidth. The full bandwidth does not return for a minimum of 6 hours. So yes, VM employ traffic shaping, on what seems to be a port by port basis. They also do not hide this fact from their customers (see their FUP).

I could moan about their advertising and sales junk I receive, but since most companies do the same, I can’t point the finger at VM.

Their customer services seem to take a while to answer the phone. The only issue I had was activating my line when it was first installed. Why they could not activate it for me, rather than insisting I install 200mb of crap on my computer first, just to activate, I don’t know.

As for the 8 complaints upheld by the ASA, I think that VM were fully justified with what they have claimed:

1. Support the campaign for broadband honesty. I agree; get what you pay for or pay for what you get. Stop lying and exploiting.

2. Millions of broadband users are being short-changed every day... Yes they are and it is tantamount to theft or exploitation.

3. Faster broadband means better broadband. I agree a faster, lower latency connection DOES give a perceivable benefit. I have tried others and can perceive it. If you don’t believe me then try using a VM 50mb line for a couple of weeks, then go back to “up-to 20mb”.

4. BT challenged that VM was twice as fast as others... OK BT, sky et al, where is your 50mb or 100mb service? How many people actually receive more than 25mb?

5. ...misleadingly suggested that [point 4] was the case in all circumstances... traffic management policies... Only “not the case” where VM has to use BT’s crappy corroded metal infrastructure. Also provide me with evidence of an ISP that doesn’t employ traffic management.

6. Delivering and average of just 6.5mbps... the only point I can’t really fault, until you get more than one user on the line or want to use the internet for something a little more demanding than sending an email or browsing static websites..

7. With around 90% of our advertised speed delivered to customers. The only customers that don’t receive 90% or better are those using BT’s lines again.

8. We don’t use old fashioned telephone lines... Less than 10% of their customers use ADSL and simply because there is not fibre in their area. Difficult to justify either way.

BT and Sky (especially BT) should pull their finger out of their arse and fully upgrade the whole country’s infrastructure with their new 21CN or “infinity” or whatever they are calling it now, rather than moaning at their competitors.

Who knows; video on demand might actually be a possibility in the near future. Unlikely if it were up to BT and their monopoly.

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Anonymous Coward

near future?

"Who knows; video on demand might actually be a possibility in the near future" -

Are you still in 2002? Video Networks had this years ago with Homechoice and did it very nicely, delivering freeview quality TV over a 3Mb line. Sadly now in Talktalk's hands who have killed it in favour of Youview.

And iPlayer on Freesat, apart from the lousy user interface, delivers near HD quality on my 5.5Mb adsl line - without any QoS.

So while I am getting only 5.5 of my 24Mb, it's still good enough for one channel of telly.

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Pint

Good

These are the chumps who every month tell me about the benefits of, and try selling me, a service they know I cannot get. First order buffoonery.

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FAIL

Reminds me of several years ago

The same people (under the monniker of NTL back then) used to plonk flyers through my letterbox advertising zippy cable broadband. So one day I call then up to get said service, to be told that said service isn't available in my area (as it's ex-C&W)....

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Anonymous Coward

Up To

The whole idea of the use of "up to" being some sort of a con in broadband advertising is a red herring.

"Up to" is standard practice in advertising all sorts of products and for all the furrore surrounding broadband advertising I've never once heard a complaint about it's use in other markets. Take those insurance adverts: "You could save up to £200!" Up to £200, is any amount from 1p to £200, but better yet is the word "could". The advert might also be worded "you may not save a single penny." Or how about the sales that advertise "up to 30% off". We all know that it doesn't suggest that everything is sold at a 30% discount. We don't need somebody to campaign on our behalf.

So how come nobody is shouting about that? Well for some reason in most industries it is assumed that people actually understand the english language. When it comes to broadband however there are some people out there who think that consumers are to damn stupid to understand what "up to" actually means.

Up to. It's a very simple concept really.

I've only met one broadband user who shouted about this. He'd bought an "Up to 8Mbps" service and was getting about 5.5Mbps to 6.5mpbs on the speed test sites. His sync speed was actually 7.2Mbps or there abouts. He wanted me to help him browbeat his ISP into giving him a full 8Mbps. Even after I explained that at the max sync speed of 8Mbps it was virtually impossible that he would ever get that thoughput for anything other than short bursts he was convinced that his download speed should be a constant 8Mbps. All because somebody had told him they were getting that from their ISP.

I even showed him two PCs connected through a switch at 100Mbps full duplex and ran iperf to demonstrate that even then you never got a constant 100Mbps throughput, but he still didn't believe me.

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Thumb Up

VM Delivers for me. For a change.

I've been with VM since their inception. Indeed, they took over my account from NTL who had previously obtained it from CableTel, the first cable provider in our area.

Now, VM have NOT been perfect over the years and I did indeed have a few issues with the superhub when upgrading from their 20mb to their 50mb service, but that all seems to be resolved now.

When I purchased the 50mb upgrade I asked about traffic shaping, FUP and port throttling policies and was assured by VM that they didn't apply any such policies to their "premium" services; the 50mb and 100mb lines. I took that initially with a pinch of salt, but I have to be honest for the last few months I've had a sterling service from them delivering precisely what I'm paying for.

I get a steady 48mb d/l and a solid 5mb u/l speed (Sometimes thats as high as 10mb) and see almost no throttling whatsoever day or night.

Given that the 50mb line costs a mere £5 more than the 20/30 line and seems to remove their bandwidth management I think its worth every penny.

Oh god. I'm sounding like a shill.

(But, its still good!)

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