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Virgin Media ads throttled by peak time bandwidth squeeze

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has rapped Virgin Media for making dodgy claims about its download speeds after a complaint by rival BT.

The "Hate to Wait" campaign, which ran in national newspapers, trumpeted the times it estimated Virgin Media broadband subscribers to download songs and TV shows.

The ads failed to mention that heavy users might not be able to achieve maximum speed because of the cable firm's peak time bandwidth-throttling policy. Virgin Media slows down its heaviest downloaders on all its broadband packages between 10am and 3pm, and between 4pm and 9pm.

The policy is aimed at distributing limited upstream bandwidth resources more fairly when the network is busy.

In its decision, the ASA wrote: "We considered that one of the main objectives of the ad was to highlight the speed with which customers could download a TV show on all three of Virgin Media's packages and, in the absence of any clarifying text, readers were likely to understand that those speeds applied at all times. "

It upheld BT's complaint and told Virgin Media to make sure that future advertised download times included bandwidth-throttling caveats. The ASA's full adjudication is here.

The mistake Virgin Media made was to put specific numbers on its download times. If it had stuck to the standard industry "super fast XMbit/s" line, it wouldn't have needed to mention its bandwidth-throttling policy; just like BT doesn't mention how it targets and restricts peer-to-peer and other bandwidth-hungry net applications using deep packet inspection gear.

A new Ofcom code of practice, set to come into force in six months, is aimed at stopping this kind of tedious marketing nonsense. ®

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