Adverts watchdog to review use of ‘unlimited’

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) is to review the use of the word ‘unlimited’ when it comes to advertising mobile phone and broadband data plans which have so-called ‘fair use policies’.

Adverts watchdog to review use of ‘unlimited’

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) is to review the use of the word ‘unlimited’ when it comes to advertising mobile phone and broadband data plans which have so-called ‘fair use policies’.

Offering seemingly unlimited data or broadband packages has become more common in recent years, but all of these are subject to ‘fair use’ limits. Exceeding these caps can often result in expensive bills for customers.

The ASAI says that it is “currently finalising a guidance note for telecommunications companies” when it comes to advertising mobile and broadband services. This work is in conjunction with work being done by the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment and the Department of Rural and Community Development.

Specifically, the ASAI has identified the word ‘unlimited’ as one that needs “to be reconsidered”.

A review of the term is to take place, but the process has not yet started, according to a spokesperson.

“Once undertaken, we will be looking at the conditions in which the term can continue to be used by advertisers,” said the ASAI.

The current situation is that the term ‘unlimited’ can be used when the fair use caps affect “no more than 1% of existing customers” of a mobile network or broadband provider. Providers are also required to alert customers when they are approaching these thresholds, according to the ASAI.

Currently, ASAI will contact operators when it receives complaints from the general public to ensure that no more than 1% are affected. It said that operators are expected to “continually monitor the number of users that have been affected” to ensure that it does not exceed 1%.

The news of the review comes as Eir yesterday announced a plan for mobile customers to enjoy ‘no limits data’. However, customers who reach 80GB of data usage in a single month will have their speeds ‘slowed’ until their next payment cycle. Eir has not indicated just how slow these speeds will be, but claims that “less than 1% of customers” will be affected.

Similarly, Vodafone’s unlimited broadband package includes a “fair usage” policy in its terms, but it does not clarify what the threshold is before customers incur penalties. Virgin Mobile caps its “unlimited” mobile plan at 40GB before limiting speeds, while Three’s “all-you-can-eat” mobile data comes with the warning that exceeding 60GB per month may result in services being limited or withdrawn.

Streaming video on Netflix or YouTube uses about 1GB per hour of standard definition video and 3GB per hour of HD video — meaning that, on some networks, even moderate use could result in additional charges.

ComReg, the communications regulator, says that any potential limits or caps “should be clear and unambiguous, particularly where the service is described as being ‘unlimited’”.

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