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Downing Street dodges 'unlimited' broadband debate

The latest victory for people's paralysis

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The government has responded to more than 9,000 people who signed a petition against misleading "unlimited" broadband advertising by bouncing them back to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which has already repeatedly refused to act.

The response, posted on the much-vaunted e-petitions experiment in inclusive democracy, says: "For example, if 80 per cent of domestic customers fall well within the limit specified by a broadband provider and the remaining 20 per cent fall outside of it, perhaps because they are using a domestic package for business use, then it ["unlimited"] may be considered a reasonable claim."

The PM's office fails to note that some providers do not publish their specific fair use limits, with consumers often unprepared for threatening letters fired out by firms who say they are using more than their "unlimited" deal limits them to.

The government's response is a list of existing laws and regulations, without any comment on whether describing a monthly package with an unpublished gigabyte limit as "unlimited" is "legal, decent, honest and truthful and prepared with a sense of responsibility", as required. It ends by palming the issue off to the ASA: "The Advertising Standards Authority considers each complaint on a case-by-case basis."

The claims of "unlimited" packages by ISPs, veiled in poorly defined fair use small print, have attracted strong criticism from inside and outside the industry over the last year. Surveys show that public satisfaction with internet providers has fallen, while increased download usage is being driven by the rise of online video.

Last month, Orange was rapped by the ASA for advertising an "unlimited" service, but only because it forgot to include the small print which limits users to 40GB per month.

Details of how to complain to Ofcom are here. ®

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