BSkyB and BT have teamed up to force rival Virgin Media to drop an advert that claimed that its broadband is “unlimited”, after the advertising watchdog found that heavy users could find their download speeds cut by up to 50 per cent.
Virgin Media, which claims it can outpace rivals by offering customers superfast Internet speeds had said that its service, which comes in speeds up to 120Mb, meant that consumers could effectively have access to unlimited downloads of music, films, TV and gaming content.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received three complaints, from BSkyB, BT and a member of the public, who argued that the claim was misleading. The complainants said Virgin Media operates a “traffic management” policy that significantly cuts the Internet speed of users who download too much content and break data caps.
Virgin Media argued that the threshold is so high – a user would have to download 11,000Mb at peak times to have their broadband speed slowed temporarily – that 97.7 per cent of its customers can download as much content as they like, whenever they like and not be affected. The ASA said the very nature of Virgin Media’s high-speed service, and its marketing which has featured the sprinter Usain Bolt, is that many consumers want to partake in “bandwidth intensive activities”.
“In that context we considered that the restriction of reducing users’ download speeds by 50 per cent was not moderate and that any reference to it was likely to contradict, rather than clarify, the claims that the service was ‘unlimited’,” the ASA said. “We therefore concluded that the claim ‘unlimited’ was misleading”.The ASA banned the advertisement and told Virgin Media not to claim that its service was either “unlimited” or with “no caps” if it imposed restrictions that were more than moderate.