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Virgin Media chucks rocks in 'unlimited' debate

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Cable incumbent Virgin Media has called on ADSL rivals to stop marketing their services as "unlimited", when fair use policies often mean they aren't.

As exclusive owner and operator of its infrastructure, Virgin is able to guarantee unlimited downloads, but told The Reg ADSL providers shouldn't try to do the same because they have to pay wholesalers for network load.

The firm is the latest to add its voice to pressure on regulators to tighten up the regulations around broadband marketing. A petition on the Downing Street website urges Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to outlaw use of the word "unlimited" unless it is without download limit caveats.

All ISPs are faced with the same problem. Rather than admit they are unable to provide truly unlimited downloads, some choose to impose unspecified monthly usage limits, which are a very crude way of managing the issue. Equally vague fair use policies mean they don't have to give criteria for singling out users, and can still, in the eyes of the ASA, call the products "unlimited".

Virgin is trialling bandwidth throttling in the north west, which it prefers to call traffic management. It would not say when the trial is set to finish, or whether the system would be rolled out nationwide, but said the aim is to rein in very heavy users during peak times. More stable access speeds would then be available to the majority.

Pipex recently angered some of its heaviest users by rolling out a similar policy across its network. Virgin reckons its brand history of being up front about small print would avoid such a confrontation with subscribers. ®

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