Ofcom Slams Misleading 'Unlimited' Broadband, Text and Call Claims

Mar 18, 2011, 05:00 ET from Broadband Genie

CAMBRIDGE, England, March 18, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- http://Broadbandgenie.co.uk has joined communications regulator Ofcom in condemning the use of the word 'unlimited' when selling broadband and mobile phone tariffs that are anything but.

Confused consumers have received huge bills, leading to anger and mistrust of broadband and phone suppliers. Ofcom's own research shows a host of examples of 'bill shock' where charges reach hundreds of pounds, or where internet speeds have been slashed within weeks of starting a new contract due to exceeding the fair use policy. Broadband Genie users regularly contact us with similar stories.

Broadband Genie editor Chris Marling added: "There is no excuse for advertising a broadband product as 'unlimited' - suggesting you can download as much as you want - and then bury the times you are allowed to do that in the small print. The same goes for texts and minutes on mobile phones.

"While the recent 'up to' recommendations from Ofcom to the ASA took the headlines, this is another significant announcement that will further help consumers get some transparency in the broadband deals they are offered. Complaints about speed are born of frustration, but those about bill shock can have very real consequences."

The majority of leading UK internet and mobile service providers use the term 'unlimited' in their advertising, despite putting heavy restrictions on usage in the small print.

On using the word 'unlimited' in advertising, Ofcom's report told the Advertising Standards Authority: "It is clear some consumers are currently being misled by the use of the term 'unlimited' and that many consumers signing up to such packages are not made aware of the relevant fair usage policies." It concludes, "Ofcom recommends that this term only be used when a service has no usage caps implemented through a fair usage policy."

It should put an end to a practice many have called dishonest and misleading. The likes of BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk all currently offer supposedly 'unlimited' broadband deals that in fact carry strict fair usage polices. Of the large brands, only Sky and Virgin Media offer any actual unlimited deals at all. The Ofcom proposal will put a stop to this confusing and arguably dishonest advertising practice - a move fully backed by Broadband Genie.

Ofcom Examples

- A consumer had a pay monthly mobile and was told at the point of sale that she would receive unlimited SMS, call and mobile internet. The consumer was subsequently and unexpectedly billed GBP350 for exceeding the fair usage policy which applied.

- Another consumer took out a mobile phone contract on the basis it had free unlimited texts. He had then had his service suspended as he had spent GBP157 on texting, after exceeding the fair usage limit of 3000 texts per month.

- A consumer stated that he entered into a mobile phone contract to a provider that offered unlimited internet usage because the 3GB per month limit on his previous contract was not sufficient . The consumer then found that there was a Fair Usage Policy which limited his usage to 500 MB per month, i.e. considerably less than his previous service which he found to be inadequate.

- A consumer signed up to an unlimited broadband service but within the first few weeks received an email from the provider stating that the fair usage limit of 100GB had been exceeded and their broadband service would be slowed down as a result.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. Broadband Genie is the UK's leading independent broadband, mobile broadband and smartphone comparison website, providing consumers with an unbiased source of information on prices and contracts and allowing them to compare providers in an independent environment. Broadband Genie was launched in March 2004 as the first dedicated consumer comparison site for broadband, while Mobile Broadband Genie was the first independent mobile broadband comparison site, launched in October 2007. The sites were combined in 2010, with the addition of smartphone comparison. The site is one of the most popular in its field, regularly featuring in the national press. http://www.broadbandgenie.co.uk

2. All queries and interview requests should be directed to Chris Marling at Broadband Genie:chris.marling@genieventures.co.uk

SOURCE Broadband Genie