Virgin Media has been ordered to stop claiming its broadband is “unlimited” after rivals BT and Sky successfully complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.
BT recently joined Sky in offering truly unlimited broadband, removing usage caps for both ADSL and fibre products.
The two firms complained about claims on Virgin’s website which stated: “Unlimited downloads Download and browse as much as you like with no caps and no hidden charges”.
Despite the claims of an “unlimited” service, Virgin Media operates a traffic management policy which reduces download and upload speeds of users who break usage limits by 50%.
The companies challenged whether the “unlimited” claim was therefore misleading.
Responding to the complaints, Virgin told the ASA that “the average consumer’s expectation of their “unlimited” service was that they could download as much as they liked, without incurring an additional charge or having their service suspended if they exceeded any usage threshold.”
The company also said that because 97.7% of their customers would not be affected by the usage caps, the average consumer’s expectation of the “unlimited” service would therefore be met.
However the advertising watchdog determined that average consumer “would not expect a service described as “unlimited” to reduce user’s speeds by 50% if they exceeded certain data thresholds, regardless of whether a particular individual user would be affected.”
In its ruling the ASA said: “While the claim “no hidden charges” made clear that users would not be charged for downloading or browsing, we considered that the inclusion of the claims “unlimited” and “no caps” implied that there were no other restrictions to the service, regardless of how much data users downloaded and browsed.
“Virgin Media’s traffic management policy reduced users’ download speeds by 50% if they exceeded certain data thresholds and we considered that this was an immoderate restriction to the advertised “unlimited” service.
“We therefore concluded that the claim “Unlimited downloads Download and browse as much as you like with no caps and no hidden charges” misleadingly implied that there were no provider-imposed restrictions on a customer’s ability to download data.”
The ruling looks to have a long-term impact on how Virgin Media can advertise its products.
The ASA has told the company it could no longer “claim that their service was “unlimited” and with “no caps” if they imposed restrictions that were more than moderate.”