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ASA says 'unlimited' broadband can have 'moderate' limits on it

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

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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 and BSkyB successfully challenged VM's statement by arguing that the company's traffic management policy had a more than moderate effect on those customers who exceeded data thresholds.

Separately, BSkyB and one other complainant questioned Virgin Media's statement that said:

"Unlimited downloads: Download and browse as much as you like with no caps and no hidden charges".

They successfully argued that the ad misled consumers because it wrongly implied there were no ISP-imposed restrictions - such as throttling - on a customer's ability to download data.

The ASA agreed with all the complaints it received about the online advert. Virgin Media tried to defend the ad by claiming that the impact of its traffic management policy on customers was only moderate, but got nowhere.

Oddly, the ad regulator also played around with semantics a bit regarding the definition of "unlimited" as it applies to ISP broadband adverts. Apparently, the watchdog believes punters will expect "moderate restrictions" on broadband traffic even when the service has been advertised as "unlimited".

This was not the case with Virgin Media, the ASA concluded. It said:

We noted the high speed nature of Virgin Media's service and the emphasis of the ad on the performance and potential maximum speed and considered that the advertised service was likely to appeal to, amongst others, those consumers who wished to carry out bandwidth intensive activities, such as linking multiple devices to their connection.

In that context we considered that the restriction of reducing users' download speeds by 50 per cent was not moderate and that any reference to it was likely to contradict, rather than clarify, the claims that the service was 'unlimited'. We therefore concluded that the claim 'unlimited' was misleading.

The ASA told Virgin Media that the ad must not appear in its current form again and admonished the telco's "unlimited" and "no caps" claims, which the watchdog said could only be used in the future where traffic throttling of the service is only moderate - thereby rendering the term "unlimited" entirely redundant. ®

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