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T-Mobile UK ordered into humiliating Full Monty strip

Cap mobe speeds all you like BUT DON'T TOUCH BITTORRENT

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T-Mobile UK can no longer describe its "Full Monty" mobile broadband tariff as "unlimited", thanks to a ruling by the advertising watchdog.

And all because the network operator slowed down BitTorrent traffic during the day.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decreed that "unlimited" can legitimately be applied to an internet service which caps both upload and download speeds, and one which blocks access to SMTP email servers and shreds suspicious emails going in either direction.

But limiting the speed of peer-to-peer file sharing during the day flies in the face of "unlimited" and thus can't be permitted, said the watchdog, so T-Mobile won't be allowed to use the term any more*.

The U word has been widely debated before: companies are keen to slide small print under every occurrence as genuinely unlimited internet access would be irresistible to the spammers, scammers, crackers and crooks for whom the ISP is a barrier to their business of choice. However, never before has a regulator been so explicit on what is allowed in the small print under the U word, and what goes beyond the pale.

T-Mobile, like all mobile and fixed operators, has a network traffic management policy which it argues is necessary to maintain performance for the benefit of the vast majority of users who aren't taking the piss.

That includes capping download speeds at 4Mb/sec (enough for a HD YouTube stream) and uploads at 1Mb/sec, as well as filtering out spam messages and blocking access to remote SMTP servers to avoid spammers using the network. All of that was acceptable to the ASA.

T-Mobile throttles peer-to-peer transfers from 8am through to 2am, leaving only a six-hour window during which BitTorrent can be used with alacrity. The rest of the time it works, just not very quickly, and that was enough to uphold a complaint and prevent the "unlimited" word being used again in marketing.

The ASA has form in objecting to speed controls: last month it decided that Virgin Media's decision to slow down users in the UK who'd exceeded their daily allowance "limited" the service, again denying the network use of the U word in its future advertising.

Ofcom, Britain's telecommunications regulator, reckons traffic management isn't an issue. Competitive pressure keeps the options open, and some form of traffic management is to the benefit of most users as long as providers are open about it, we're told.

It might seem self evident that any massaging of network packets prevents access being "unlimited", so no UK ISP should be allowed to use the term, but as long as the ASA permits exceptions for caps and blocks, and until some marketing drone comes up with an equally evocative phrase, we'll keep arguing about what exactly the U word means. ®

Updated to add

* T-Mobile has been in touch after publication to let us know it can't give up the "unlimited" word, and has thus decided to stop throttling peer-to-peer file sharing traffic instead. So it can still call the Full Monty tariff "unlimited" despite the other limits on download speed, upload speed, and services all of which remain in place.

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