Feeds

Mobile operators warned on 'unlimited' data gouging

We meant the bill, not how many bytes you can have

The Power of One Infographic

A UK watchdog has urged mobile operators to obey the spirit of rules on data billing, not the letter, if they don't want greater restrictions imposed.

Calling for more useful information for customers, the UK's Communications Ombudsman reckons it might be necessary for telcos to send out warnings when punters approach their data caps, and firms should be prevented from using the word "unlimited" unless the provision really comes without any limit.

Most network operators offer some sort of "unlimited" tariff, but all come with some sort of "fair use" cap and tariffs differ on how customers who exceed that cap are dealt with. The ombudsman's attention is on tariffs that charge a high rate for data outside the cap, often punitively high, and speaking to BBC Radio 5 (fast forward 7mins) he's made it clear that the status quo is not acceptable:

Most mobile operators are playing by the rules, so that then begs the question: are the rules what they ought to be?

The use of "unlimited" has been challenged before, but is allowed by the Advertising Standards Authority as long as the cap is placed high enough to go unnoticed by a "typical user". However, your typical user is consuming more and more data, and the caps need to reflect that, but as long as they do the advertising (self) regulator reckons it's OK.

Some tariffs do issue warnings, but given the latency of text messaging (which can see individual messages delayed by hours) the operators risk alerting customers too late. App stores are awash with smartphone applications for counting data consumed, but users are still getting caught out, including a fair proportion of those listen to Radio 5 Live.

Unlimited tariffs are a real problem for network operators, just as they are for fixed operators - one ends up with a fraction of the customer base consuming most of the resources. Internet access does not come at a fixed cost to the provider, who has to pay for peering arrangements with the rest of the world, but customers want a fixed price so the provider has to juggle priorities.

Three is crowing that its "unlimited" offering really is unlimited - no fair use or excess fees - but if you're not in the minority that consumes huge quantities of data then you have to ask yourself if you want to subsidise those who do.

The punitive rates charged by network operators are often unfair, and there's certainly a case for near-cap warnings as long as operators won't be held liable if they're delayed. Fixed ISPs have been providing just that for years: a friendly e-mail when one approaches the limit, a suggested upgrade if one exceeds it slightly, and that's surely a sensible model for the mobile world to adopt. ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Google Nest, ARM, Samsung pull out Thread to strangle ZigBee
But there's a flaw in Google's IP-based IoT system
Orange spent weekend spamming customers with TXTs
Zero, not infinity, is the Magic Number customers want
Want to beat Verizon's slow Netflix? Get a VPN
Exec finds stream speed climbs when smuggled out
US freemium mobile network eyes up Europe
FreedomPop touts 'free' calls, texts and data
'Two-speed internet' storm turns FCC.gov into zero-speed website
Deadline for comments on net neutrality shake-up extended to Friday
GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?
An ideal product if you believe the Earth is flat
NBN Co execs: No FTTN product until 2015
Faster? Not yet. Cheaper? No data
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.