back to article ASA says 'unlimited' broadband can have 'moderate' limits on it

Britain's advertising regulator has upheld complaints brought against Virgin Media by BSkyB and BT over the cable company's "unlimited" broadband claims. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Virgin Media had misled customers with an ad on the ISP's website that claimed punters could "get unlimited downloads". But BT …


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  1. LordBrian


    Well it's funny how BSkyB and BT have their cases investigated yet when I complained about the same thing with Sky I was told there was no case to investigate. The ASA really are worthless.

    1. hokum

      Re: Funny

      How long ago did you "complain about the same thing with Sky"? Because Sky has been fully unlimited for a while - there is no traffic management or download caps.

    2. LarsG

      Re: Funny

      Then the service should be called 'Moderated Unlimited' Broadband and not Unlimited alone.

      If you use the legal reasonable man test, a reasonable man would assume that if the word unlimited, in unlimited glasses of cola with your meal, would mean just that. Drink as much as you like.

      The same goes wit broadband, but if it is moderated then it should be up front in capital letters and not hidden in section 309/7834/783 of the small print.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Funny

        Well, no, the reasonable man would assume if you were offerend unlimited cola with your meal, that you'd be allowed to drink as much as you could reasonably consume in a sitting. Not park up a tanker outside, and demand they connect up a hose so you could fill it with your 'unlimited' cola.

        Spend 24 hours a day downloading torrents? You're the equivalent of demanding they fill your tanker with cola.

        1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

          Re: Funny

          "Spend 24 hours a day downloading torrents? You're the equivalent of demanding they fill your tanker with cola."

          Nope. You are using what you have paid for.

          The difference here is the point of "with your meal". This would mean that it is valid only for one meal, while you consume that meal. Strictly, as soon as you have finished the last mouthful, your contract is completed and you are entitled to no more. In addition, it is a quite obvious assumption (and probably stated, too) that it is for your own consumption during that meal. Therefore you could not fill up a few bottles to take away, you must consume it with the meal.

          When you pay for unlimited broadband, you are paying for a 24x7 service. I see no reason why you should not be allowed to download at the full speed of your connection 24x7. You are not abusing the service, you are using it. If you place limits on it beyond that, by definition it is no longer unlimited.

        2. LarsG

          Re: Funny@AC11:21

          Totally different context.

          If I sell you a car and it has a 12 year paint warranty and after 3 years the paint begins to peel the manufacturer can't say 'ah we cannot fix this under the warranty because you left the car out in the rain'.

          There is a reasonable expectation that the car will get wet at some stage. Just as there is an expectation that unlimited broadband does actually mean unlimited. The terms and conditions should reflect this and leave the purchaser in no doubt whatsoever. If I were to buy a car that comes with a disclaimer, 'getting this vehicle wet will invalidate the warranty' I would look elsewhere. The same goes with broadband that says 'unlimited except for...' And lists 20 or so disclaimers. I would go elsewhere.

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            Re: Funny@AC11:21

            Exactly. They should sell it as10gb month 100gb month unlimted per month (24x7 if so required). However they dont want to do that, they want to keep some hidden value that triggers nasty letters or throttling.

          2. Stratman

            Re: Funny@AC11:21

            "If I sell you a car and it has a 12 year paint warranty and after 3 years the paint begins to peel the manufacturer can't say 'ah we cannot fix this under the warranty because you left the car out in the rain'."

            Mercedes do.

          3. Corinne

            Re: Funny@AC11:21

            "If I sell you a car and it has a 12 year paint warranty and after 3 years the paint begins to peel the manufacturer can't say 'ah we cannot fix this under the warranty because you left the car out in the rain'."

            However they can and do say "you parked the car under a tree that is occupied by birds & didn't wash the shit off within 24 hours each time, so the warranty is invalidated".

    3. richard 7

      Re: Funny

      Sky dont use traffic management thats why, I'm not sure they ever did tither, certainly not on the package I'm on in the last 5 years.

      1. AlbertH

        Re: Funny

        That's strange - you must have the special "friend of a Murdoch" package that's unavailable to the rest of us!

    4. Richard Pennington 1

      Re: Funny

      As a private individual, if you want to complain about Sky, you should therefore address your complaint to the *marketing departments of Virgin Media and BT*. It's called "leverage".

    5. Kevin Johnston

      Re: Funny

      Just for giggles I have posted a response to this ruling through the ASA website as I do not appreciate their assumption that the general public expect to be short changed and only get upset if it by an unreasonable amount.

      Fortunately I am not expecting a reasoned reply so holding my breath was not required*

      *breath holding may occur as part of normal daily activity but this should not be confused with the above statement except when it suits us

  2. The Alphabet

    Dear ASA:

    The definition of unlimited: "limitless or without bounds; unrestricted"

    Traffic management policies that restrict speeds more than 0% contradicts the above term entirely. This is not a technical restriction (as in ADSL where you're too far from the exchange and can only get, for example, 3mb) but merely a capacity one.

    Secondly the higher the headline speed, the more aggressive the reduction in speed becomes. So having 40% of a 120mb line cut because I'M USING IT TOO MUCH (*11GB or more downstream between 3pm and 8P)M is a ridiculous LIMIT who pay the top price to access exactly that.

    1. The BigYin

      I totally agree. And this reminds me, I really must look into a quality of service system so I can stay below the limits of my unlimited service. :-S

    2. Steve Knox Silver badge

      The definition of unlimited: "limitless or without bounds; unrestricted"

      By that definition, of course, no unlimited service can exist -- unless our model for physics is completely wrong.

      Every ISP's offering is limited by the technical specifications of their delivery mechanism, so the existence or not of traffic management policies wouldn't enter into it.

      A more practical definition of "unlimited" for this discussion would be "without arbitrary restrictions placed by the ISP which limit the speed or availability of the service below that which is technically possible." Then of course, we run into the question of "arbitrary" -- are traffic management rules based on statistics of customer access, which provide for relatively equivalent* bandwidth to all customers during periods of high demand, arbitrary?

      (NB I'm NOT saying VM's rules fit this description -- I'm pretty sure they're biased against their higher-bandwidth customers. But given that all ISPs are oversubscribed to some degree (those which are financially viable, at any rate) some form of traffic management is necessary to prevent unequitable service disruptions.)

      *As in, relative to the bandwidth paid for. For example , if you have two customers, Bob who paid for 120mb and Alice who paid for 20mb, and you were oversubscribed by 14mb, cutting Bob to 108mb and Alice to 18mb would be relatively equivalent (10% each); cutting them both by 7mb (Bob to 113mb and Alice to 13mb) would be unfair to Alice, cutting Bob by a higher percentage would be unfair to Bob.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        of course an unlimited service can be applied! It is not unlimited as a concious factor exists to artifically impose restrictions on certain people when a threshold is exceeded. That is not unlimited it is a speed or capacity managed solution. It isnt being limited by geography or line quality rather by a programmed mechanism to throttle or cap person X when they are downloading content type Y or have downloaded Z gb

  3. Justice

    Isn't that like...

    'Although our lasagnes state they contain beef, customers should expect 'moderate' amounts of horse."

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Isn't that like...

      More like "Although our ads contain only Prime Fact Fillet packed full of meaty tech goodness, they may also contain traces of distilled bullshit and moral decrepitude."

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Isn't that like...

        still tasted good. I know what goes into sausages, doesnt stop me liking "mixed offal bags" either.

  4. Gordon Pryra

    Watchdog is not indedependent then?

    "Apparently, the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions" on broadband traffic even when the service has been advertised as "unlimited"

    What a load of utter rubbish.

    If you sell me unlimited broadband, Then I am buying unlimited broadband. Not your version of the word which has a different meaning to the one in the English language.

    The law is quite clear on specifics, and "unlimited" has a very specific meaning.

  5. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    ASA Dictionary

    unlimited = slightly limited

    illegal = mostly legal

    unaccountable = accountable to somebody

    useless = ASA

    1. The BigYin

      Re: ASA Dictionary

      I wish I could upvote more than once.

    2. kain preacher Silver badge

      Re: ASA Dictionary

      Ah so that explains whyPhorm had no action taken against them. I was using the wrong dictionary.

  6. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

    "...the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions"..."

    We should tell them that we don't.

    1. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: "...the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions"..."

      I believe that unlimited should mean unlimited. And I also believe that the ASA should pull their thumbs out of their arses and start earning their salaries.

      1. Rob Moir

        Re: "...the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions"..."

        Exactly. I've got no problems with services that are 'limited' or 'restricted' but I think that products should be described accurately. This is further proof that the ASA don't know their ass from their elbow.

    2. gb030104

      Re: "...the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions"..."

      Actually I do expect limits on my unlimited broadband. Because I expect to be lied to by the ISPs and I expect the ASA to allow false advertising.

  7. S4qFBxkFFg

    Ideally, instead of banning dodgy advertising, the ASA would have the ability (and obligation) to make the advertising true.

    So, in the case of CrapISP providing "unlimited" connections, they would be compelled, further than unreasonably impracticable, to provide unlimited connections, with jail time for the board if they manage to weasel out of it (e.g. by going bust).

  8. seven of five

    Meanwhile in Germany...

    Deutsche Telekom limits their 100Mbit ftth to 300GB/month, should you dare to exceed this your bandwidth will be cut by 99,7% (that is 384kBit/s).

    Given a 100MBit connection, how hard do you expect it to be above 10Gbyte a day? HD video anyone? For more than one person in the household?

    ...of course you may pay for additional traffic allowance...

    1. The BigYin

      Re: Meanwhile in Germany...

      But, do the advertise it as "unlimited"?

      If they say something like "full-speed with a data cap" or "max-speed with fair use policy" then that's fine. At least you know what you are getting.

      1. seven of five

        Re: Meanwhile in Germany...

        iirc the term they use is flat. Which has become a bit of a warning sign lately. In terms of telephony, flat actually means flat -> 24/7 use. In terms of data - not so much.

        The do mention it in the contract details. Interestingly, the "up to" 50Mbit VDSL is throttled much less devastatingly to a more usable 6Mbit after hitting the traffic cap.

  9. Adam 1 Silver badge

    unlimited has a very clear limit

    It is the promised bandwidth multiplied by the seconds in the month.

    If there is a restriction above and beyond this then just be upfront about it.

  10. Rampant Spaniel

    Wasn't a certain germanic mobile company flogging unlimited mobile broadband a few years ago where if you hit a certain amount they charged you overages. Unlimited is a pretty clear term. VM are not alone is buggering up the definition of words to suit their marketing mouth breathers. Most 'unlimited' comes with some form of FUP or get out clause. This is exactly why marketing companies should be drowned. Just because you work for Donkey Spunk and Milfs and have those stupid rectangular glasses and a turtle neck does not mean you can change what a word means. Unlimited means without limits, not capped, not shaped, not throttled or managed.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Rampant Spaniel

      I doubt the marketing twonks came up with the term unlimited. More likely the ISP asked them to market an unlimited broadband offer, but then added the caveats because said ISP wanted to offer "unlimited", but didn't want to provide it.

      Mind you, as a VM cable customer, I've never felt the effects of traffic management - maybe some contention, and the none too infrequent slowdowns elsewhere on the web. And that's because VM's traffic management is targeted specifically at file sharing. As their policy states, I'd need to download 1,200 songs or seven movies in a five hour peak period to be capped, and even then the cap only applies to the file sharing. I can't see that there's the content available to cause any normal user to encounter throttling.

      So, certainly if VM apply limits then there offer isn't unlimited. But a far more important questions, is how do the whiners find so much content to regularly suffer from throttling?

      1. Gordon Pryra


        I think the majority of comments are not aimed at Virgin as such, they are hardly the worst offenders in the shitty broadband race, and like you say, to actually get hit by them you need to work hard.

        But the OTHER players in the space, who sell limited broadband will be loving the ASA right now.

        Did the ASA make no mention of what a "fair use policy" actually meant?

        Like the word "unlimited" means "Unlimited", a non-specific fair use policy mean to me, "I can use my internet as much as I like as I am paying for it, which is a fair use of it, otherwise this package would not have been sold as unlimited"

      2. mike__

        Re: @Rampant Spaniel

        VirginMedia have two policies:

        1. File Sharing Traffic Management: all file sharing is capped at ~75% line speed during peak hours, regardless of how much you used

        2. Subscriber Traffic Management: If you go over the threshold, you will be capped at 50% of your line speed. All traffic counts towards this, and all traffic is affected by it

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: @Rampant Spaniel

          My apologies, my comments were aimed more at the mobile mafia and their FUP's. I haven't had a UK mobile in a few years but the unlimited up to x amount of minutes \ txts \ mb then we charge throttle or disconnect you is bollocks of the highest order. If you aren't actually prepared to offer unlimited, don't pretend to and then find sly ways of getting out of it when you network can't cope.

        2. Crisp Silver badge

          Re: VirginMedia have two policies

          OH COME ON!

          The only reason I bought the frigging XXL 100 Unlimited package is because VM said that they wouldn't gimp my connection!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: VirginMedia have two policies@Crisp

            "The only reason I bought the frigging XXL 100 Unlimited package is because VM said that they wouldn't gimp my connection!"

            I'm not seeking to defend VM (who are evidently a bunch of liars) but according to the VM policy, the maximum download throttling you'd suffer would be 40%, and you'd already have needed to have slurped 100GB that day. I'd be very surprised if you were able to tell that you were being choked down to a mere 60 Mb/s, or that such a limit would cramp your style very much?

            And for that matter, I'd be surprised if you could find that much content hosted on servers as fast during peak hours as your fat-but-crimped pipe.

            As somebody with a 60MB widger all of this could just be pipe envy on my part.

            1. Crisp Silver badge

              Re: VirginMedia have two policies@Crisp

              All that pornography doesn't download itself you know!

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: VirginMedia have two policies@Crisp

              the maximum download throttling you'd suffer would be 40%"

              Note carefully the date on the table. It seems to be remarkably similar to the date of the judgement.

              I suspect the penalty reduction has been changed to 40% so as to give lip service to the words "not moderate" in relation to the 50% restriction. They will now claim that a reduction of less than 50% is "moderate"

  11. dotdavid
    Thumb Up

    "Virgin choking wasn't moderate, so its wrist is smacked"

    Definitely not moderate. In order to set up QoS properly on my 30Mb/s connection (I use VOIP as my "landline"), I have to set the max incoming bandwidth to 80% of 15Mb/s and max outgoing bandwidth to 50% of 500Kb/s, as the circumstances for Virgin throttling my connection down to that level are way too common for my liking (and that's without any torrenting, legal or otherwise - I merely use Spotify, Steam and other high-bandwidth apps).

    I don't really think it's fair they're selling a 15Mb/s connection as 30Mb/s, but it's still the most cost-effective way of getting internet without having to fork out for landline rental, so I'm stuck with it for now.

    *Edit:* Got the figures slightly wrong, but you get the gist; Virgin have them here -

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Wonder if they put them in an imagine so the data cant be indexed and searched... Nah, of course not!

      1. mike__

        Re: Huh

        That image is on the top page for a Google search of 'virgin media traffic management'

  12. Sergiu Panaite


    None of the big ISPs are better than the others. Virgin are very good in areas where high contention ratios aren't a problem (I'm on 60Mbps and I get 60Mbps pretty much all the time, and I've been in two different cable areas).

    BT Infinity does quite well too as long as you're reasonably close to the cabinet - I could get 70+Mbps and I believe it'd work at that speed.

    Sky are okay, but they're only estimating 40Mbps where I am so they're already off to a worse start. If however you don't really care about the speed and you want the TV packages, then Sky broadband would be a no-brainer.

    If you can only get ADSL2+ or Virgin (fibre), then Virgin would probably win straight away based on speeds. It's not a black-and-white game, a lot of it is down to what each house can actually get.

    1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      "Sky are okay, but they're only estimating 40Mbps where I am so they're already off to a worse start."

      If you are talking about Sky Fibre, that is because 40Mbps is the max they offer.

      You need to take Sky Fibre Pro for 80Mbps. I did, and as a heavy user I have encountered no throttling or caps.

      A small tip, though. They charge you for installation of Pro (as an existing customer, at least). The don't charge you for plain fibre. However, you can get Fibre and, as soon as it is installed, upgrade to Pro.

  13. Rampant Spaniel

    Theres a dedicated server provider based in Chicago (I forget their exact name) that have about th fairest approach to 'unlimited'. They off (amongst other things) unmetered connections. You go on a switch with other users and the bandwidth is contended but otherwise all you can eat. They also give you a fair idea of how much to expect you can use. No marketing BS, just a straight forward, you have a 1gbps port, expect to be able to use say 30000GB a month, possibly more but unlikely to be less unless you don't need it but you won't ever pay overages. I can't comment on the quality of their service, but the concept seems a lot fairer and above board than the shyte in the consumer market.

  14. koolholio

    "the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions" on broadband traffic even when the service has been advertised as "unlimited"."

    When the vast majority of service users dont know their left from their right elbows?

  15. Anonymous Coward


    VM call their throttling moderate??? My fat white yorkshire arse its moderate.

    In the (mon to fri) day i hit 3.10mbps, evening / weekend i have 700k maximum....

    DSL is faster than fibre!!!!


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