Even unlimited broadband has its limits

When Littlewoods use the word guaranteed, its meaning may differ substantially to that recognised by you or I. Similarly, when broadband providers describe a service as unlimited, what they usually mean is unlimited up until you reach a limit that we may or may not have told you.

Rather like a car salesman selling you a motor that can circumnavigate the globe on a single tank of petrol. The difference is, and it's a crucial one, that the salesman would be arrested, and not before you give them a bloody good shoeing.

So it's no surprise that research by uSwitch has found that one million UK consumers have exceeded or come close to exceeding their broadband usage limit. Over half of broadband providers who advertised unlimited services actually capped usage, and only two out of nine bothered to flag up what the limit was. As a result of this blatant deception, 4 out of 5 broadband users don't know that unlimited broadband isn't necessarily anything of the sort.

But what happens if you exceed your quota of bits and bytes? A firm but friendly phonecall from customer services? The lads with hammers arrive at the door at 4 in the morning? Or worse still - disconnection?

According to the survey, plenty of providers will pull the plug if you insist on clogging up the pipes with HD downloads of The A-Team:
Tiscali - advertised as unlimited, has fair usage policy but with unspecified excess, will cut off those deemed heavy users

Be - advertised as unlimited, unspecified excess, will not cut off users

Sky - unlimited with no usage barrier or cut off policy for those on its own network. 40GB monthly limit for other customers.

Virgin Media - unlimited but traffic of heavy users is "shaped" at busy times

Toucan - advertised as unlimited, with unspecified fair usage, will cut customers off

BT - advertised as unlimited, unspecified fair usage, will not cut users off

AOL - 40Gb limit, will remove users who exceed it

Plusnet - 30Gb peak-time limit. Those exceeding their limit will be encouraged to upgrade

Orange - advertised as unlimited, unspecified excess, will remove heavy users

It's not so much of a problem at the moment, but as media consumption habits continue to migrate online - online television, downloading movies - it may be that unlimited will have to mean just that. If that happens, you can be sure they'll be a hefty price tag attached.


  • Mike S.
    I exceeded the fair use limit with Tiscali. They wrote and said that they had warned me before (they hadn't) and they put me down to a slower speed. I was not impressed and left for Virgin.
  • David D.
    I was with BT - I exceeded their unspecified usage. They didn't tell me. They then reduced by speed to 512k from the 8mb I was paying for. I moved to 02.
  • David P.
    Oooooh sounds like a great way of getting out of a lengthy contract (12 / 18 months)! Perfect for ISP's which offer discounted broadband in the first 3 months or so...
  • Rusty S.
    I had problems with Pipex. I am a heavy downloader, but was on an "unlimited" business account. They first wrote to me to say that I had excessive use, and that I should limit large downloads to their off-peak hours. I did exactly that, which was easy to do as my usenet software had the ability to throttle between set times. This wasnt good enough for Pipex, who, despite me following their instructions to the letter, suspended me from their service (which meant I was still connected to their network but had no throughput), not even giving me any time to migrate to someone else before this happened. In fact they (I am sure deliberately) messed up my migration so I was without any service whatsoever for 3-4 weeks, before I moved to Aquiss, which had clearly defined limits rather than the Pipex limits that they won't tell you about. I have since moved on to Be on an ADSL2+ service, which is absolutely excellent. Pipex recently wrote to me asking if I'd like to come back to them as a valued business customer !!!!

What do you think?

Your comment