When unlimited mobile internet can be legitimately limited.
We all know how the definition of ‘unlimited’ varies depending on whether you are an internet user or internet provider. However, mobile network operator giffgaff have just won a case that explains exactly when unlimited is allowed to be limited.
Giffgaff was accused of misleading customers who reported the company to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for advertising ‘unlimited’ mobile data plans that were actually capped.
Eight customers complained about giffgaff’s £10, £15 and £20 goodybag plans which offer unlimited mobile data for a month. They claimed they had been disconnected from data service after being warned they were using too much data. Which was kind of contrary to the offer of unlimited data.
The ASA did support their complaint, but has now ruled in favour of giffgaff who claimed these eight rogue individuals had been using the service ‘illegitimately’. Now ‘illegitimate’ is another one of those word (like unlimited) that could potentially have any number of definitions. Just ask any bastard. However, giffgaff’s position was supported by the ASA as these users hadn’t paid enough attention to the small print. Giffgaff’s terms and conditions state that unlimited data must be for personal use and that SIMs can’t be used in other devices such as dongles or "if you do anything or permit anyone else to do anything which we reasonably think adversely impacts the Service to other giffgaff customers or may adversely affect the Network". Note, however, that the help page of their website also stated, in answer to the question “What is the fair use policy?” that “if you have the £10, £15 of £20 goodybag (i.e. wherever we say that data is unlimited) then there is NO Fair use policy ... Unlimited - At giffgaff 'unlimited' means 'unlimited', so play fair and play nice, so it stays that way".
So, how did giffgaff know these eight users were not using data for personal use? According to the ASA’s adjudication giffgaff explained that they would suspend customers using over 1GB an hour and contact them to ensure they were using the service legitimately. If they were, service would be restored. This was contrary to the evidence of one complainant who claims he confirmed he was not illegitimate, and was then told that “his usage was still too high and his service would be disconnected if the usage rate continued.”
The ASA noted the situation above, but found this to be a customer service fail, rather than misleading advertising, and that the user had, in fact, been disconnected due to an adverse impact on the network. The ASA said:
“we noted the terms and conditions outlined that the service must not be used for tethering or connecting to other devices. We considered that this was a fair condition and was not contrary to what the average consumer would understand from an unlimited mobile internet service.
“We also considered the condition that the service would not be used ‘in such a way that adversely impacts the service to other gifgaff customers’ was, when used correctly, an acceptable condition.”
The ASA further accepted that giffgaff do not have a fair use policy that would impinge on a “normal consumer’s” unlimited data use.