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‘Unlimited’ broadband capping under fire

'What’s fair usage anyway?' ask consumers

All-you-can-eat broadband isn't all it's cracked up to be – at least as far as some consumers are concerned. Disgruntled customer Kevin Peel has started an e-petition asking Tony Blair to "insist that Ofcom and the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority] stop broadband providers advertising 'unlimited' services that are, in fact, limited in the small print by undefined fair use policies".

While some people are content with a broadband service that costs only a couple of pounds more than a monthly dialup subscription but limits them to a few gigabytes of data traffic a month, others have been enticed by so-called unlimited or uncapped broadband services. With these, you can surf at high speed and download as many music, video or other files as you like – provided your use of the service is deemed by the ISP to be 'fair'.

The term 'fair' is often open to interpretation, with some ISPs making it clearer than others what they deem such usage to be in their marketing materials, in product descriptions on their websites and in terms and conditions.

Another reason consumers are unhappy is that once a customer approaches or reaches their ISP's interpretation of a fair amount to download in a month, the service may be frozen or the connection speed lowered, sometimes quite considerably and often without prior warning.

Broadband service providers point out that since using a broadband subscription all day every day can actively prevent other users connected to the same broadband pipe from getting online, and that some customers may exploit their 'unlimited' broadband service by downloading copyrighted video content and other material illegally, a fair usage policy is necessary.

However, consumers argue that the terms of each ISP's fair usage policy are not made sufficiently clear, while others argue that restricting what is marketed as unlimited product is in contravention of advertising standards regulations.

Having claimed a victory by getting Ofcom – the telecoms regulator – to force all broadband service providers to make it quicker and easier to migrate from one internet service to another, the petitioners now aim to make ISPs market the terms of their services more transparently.

Until last month, ISPs had a voluntary code of practice governing how they dealt with customers wishing to switch broadband provider. In response to customer outcry that the system wasn't working, Ofcom stepped in and made it mandatory.

You can sign up to the unlimited ADSL petition here.

To have your say about broadband issues, click here and complete PC Advisor's broadband questionnaire.

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