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Unlimited broadband not doing what it says on the tin

03 September 2009 / by Rachael Stiles

Broadband customers who sign up for so-called 'unlimited' packages are often finding that their downloads are not as unlimited as they expect.

Research from uSwitch.com has revealed that 8.1 million broadband customers do no know what download limit their broadband package has.

Sky broadband set a precedent when it launched the first completely unlimited service last year, the comparison website said, but this has not been repeated across the market.

The broadband market is still clouded by uncertainty over limits and speeds, with just three major broadband providers advertising their service clearly, despite calls to bring greater transparency for consumers and criticism of the practise of putting limits on 'unlimited' packages.

Consequently, more than 7.7 million could still be exceeding their limits, uSwitch estimates, despite being signed up to an 'unlimited' broadband deal.

Those users who are clueless as to their limit – which represent about half of all broadband customers in the UK – could easily exceed their 'fair usage policy', and could put themselves at risk of being cut off, as 70 per cent of broadband providers would consider taking this action, even when they advertise their service as 'unlimited'.

Meanwhile, nearly 40 per cent of broadband users believe they are on an unlimited broadband package, and are downloading to their hearts' content, but with just one provider offering a completely unlimited service, uSwitch is concerned that this could lead to many broadband users exceeding their limits.

And, despite uSwitch's two years of campaigning for greater clarity in the broadband market, the situation has been exacerbated by the growing number of consumers who are hooking up to broadband across the country.

The soaring number of people using broadband is expected to continue rising, as more people use the internet for watching video through BBC iPlayer, ITV and Chanel 4's On Demand.  

Consumers face disconnection by unknowingly exceeding their 'unlimited' download allowance, but this is legal, according to the Advertising Standards Agency, providing the details are evident in the small print of the agreement.

"The solution is easy, broadband companies should not be allowed to class their packages as unlimited if they are not," said Jason Glynn, communications expert at uSwitch.com. "Providers are confusing consumers to the extent that broadband users do not even know if they are approaching or exceeding a download limit."

Mr Glynn believes that "The ASA and Ofcom really need to take action and actually set strict guidelines on the advertising of broadband packages. These policies are confusing enough without customers having to worry if they are going to have their service terminated," he said, urging consumers to compare broadband deals and make sure they get the best deal for their needs.

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ProviderSpeedDownloadsContractMonthly Cost 
Up to 38MbUnlimited18 Months£27 per month for 18 months (includes line rental)More Info >
Unlimited Superfast Broadband £27 a Month For 18 Months (including line rental). £25 set up fee
Up to 17MbUnlimited12 MonthsFrom £24.99 pm (plus £9.99 set up fee)More Info >
Unlimited Broadband + Weekend Calls - £24.99 per month with a 12 month contract. 1000 GB Cloud. £40 BT Reward Card