One of the most common promotional offers you see banded around for broadband services is the so-called ‘unlimited’ broadband. For a certain fixed price on a monthly basis, these service proclaim the consumer’s dream – unmetered, unlimited bandwidth for a low fixed cost. When confronted with this kind of offer over a restricted package for the same price, which would you rather choose?
Actually this is something of a sting. Unlimited broadband is actually a metaphor for ‘limited broadband’ – quite the opposite. In fact, there’s very little difference between an unlimited broadband package and a limited package, which those who take advantage of the unlimited promise often find out to their detriment. False advertising? Probably. Can they do that? Well it seems as thought they’re getting away with it.
The legal justification is that indeed, broadband usage in unlimited. But that isn’t a no-strings offer. Broadband providers are required to pay variable amounts depending on your usage. For example, if one month you use twice what you used in the month previous, the provider will be required to pay a higher variable cost. Likely, if you go beyond your allowance on a standard, limited package, this bill will be passed on to you directly on your next account statement. Obviously then, offering unlimited usage is risky – after all if you’re charging a fixed price and someone uses over the paid-for allowance, it’s possible that the provider could end up footing the bill out of their own coffers, right?
That’s where the secret weapon comes in – ‘fair usage’. In the contract for unlimited broadband, there will (almost) always be a fair usage policy – i.e. your broadband usage is unlimited subject to fair use. In other words, abusing the broadband space by downloading tons of movies might put you outside the definition of ‘unlimited’. Sounds unfair? We’re not even started.
‘Fair usage’ is seldom defined within the contract itself – in other words, it’s left to interpretation. One man’s idea of what a fair use of a service may be is completely different from another. In fact, the customers idea of fair use (of an unlimited service) won’t meet with the preconception of the provider. And when all’s said and done, it’s the provider that holds the power – if you don’t like it and don’t pay up, you’ll lose your connectivity. Ultimately this means it’s down to the interpretation of particular broadband provider you’re with and the amount you’ve used your unlimited broadband over the course of that month.
Whilst it has as of yet met little legal or regulatory challenge, it would seem as though any logical advertising standards authority would be quick to shut down this clearly underhanded practice that doesn’t seem to deliver on its promises. For now though, it’s up to you to find the best unlimited provider for you – which may well be one that doesn’t argue.