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Virgin Media claims of ‘unlimited’ mobile data were misleading

Wednesday, April 1st 2015 by Dean Reilly

Adverts on the Virgin Media website promoting “unlimited” Virgin Mobile data deals were misleading, the body that monitors advertising standards has ruled.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received seven complaints which claimed that the term “unlimited data” was misleading in relation to a number of Virgin Media mobile tariffs.

The ASA found references to “unlimited data” on a number of pages on virginmedia.com. In one instance, the page featured the Virgin Mobile VIP Plus plan, a second page referenced “exclusive tariffs”, while a third featured a table of SIM-only deals.

The advertising regulator also found that at the bottom of each page, small print stated: "You should expect speeds delivered up to 384Kbps (3G), actual speeds experienced may be higher or lower and will vary by device and location."

Virgin Media responded to the complaints by highlighting that customers can access the internet without speed restrictions for an initial 3.5GB of data usage per month.

The company went on to state that once a customer exceeded that amount, the speed at which they were able to access the internet was restricted to 384Kbps, which was referenced as being almost twice the understood definition for 3G of 200Kbps.

Virgin Media added that the restrictions placed on consumers were moderate in respect of the tariffs being advertised, while Virgin customers were at no point prevented from accessing the internet, no matter how much data was used.

In addition, Virgin Media stated that only 2% of customers ever reach the 3.5GB limited within a 30 day period, and that those who do are likely to be more aware of advertised expected speeds than the average consumer.

Moderate restrictions

In spite of this, the ASA ruled that the complaints should be upheld. The regulator reported that Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance was clear about how unlimited claims would only be acceptable if any limitations that affected speed or usage of service were both moderate and clearly explained.

CAP, which writes and maintains the UK Advertising Codes that are administered by the ASA, stated that “moderate restrictions” should not prevent or hinder users from carrying out online activities at speeds close to those of a normal connection.

The ASA cited recent Ofcom mobile broadband speed research, published in November 2014, which indicated the average 3G speed delivered to smartphones was 6.1Mbps.

The regulator determined that a drop from 6.1Mbps to the "384Kbps" referred to in the small print was more than a moderate reduction.

As a result, the ASA concluded that the claim "unlimited data" was misleading, and that the ad breached CAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), and 3.11 (Exaggeration).

The breached rules stated that marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so, must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product and that marketers should have documentary evidence to support any claims made.

As a result of the ruling, the ad must not appear again in its current form.

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