The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated an advert for Virgin's cable broadband services that promoted the ability of customers to download television shows quickly. The press advert was headed 'Hate to wait?'.
The ad claimed that users of its slowest internet package, M, could download a television show in 26 minutes, and L customers could do so in 13 minutes.
Competitor British Telecom complained about the ads, though, saying that any M or L user trying to download a TV show in peak time would have their connection deliberately slowed under Virgin's 'traffic management' programme, and that the programmes would therefore take longer to download.
Virgin has introduced a policy of reducing the broadband speeds of customers downloading large amounts of data during peak time. It said that the download limits were imposed between 4pm and 9pm and were to cap the activity of heavy downloaders.
Virgin conceded that at its own estimated size of a half hour TV programme of 341MB a customer on the M package downloading at peak time would go over that limit and have their speed limited. It said that L and XL customers had higher limits.
The ASA said that the ad was intended to highlight the speed of TV downloads and should have contained some reference to the fact that the speeds quoted were only achievable at certain times .
"We considered that the ad clearly stated that an M package customer could 'download a TV show', but that the ad did not make clear that the 26 minute download time was only possible during off-peak hours, or that by downloading one full TV show in peak hours customers would automatically be in breach of the download limits for the M package," said its ruling.
"We also considered that, although L package customers were able to download two TV shows in the time stated in the ad before reaching their download limit in peak hours, Virgin's traffic management policy was similarly restrictive for L package customers," it said.
"We considered that the text 'Acceptable usage policy applies' did not make the peak time restrictions clear and it would not be unreasonable for readers to expect to be able to download at least one half-hour TV show on the M package, or several half-hour TV shows on the L package, during the five hours of the peak time period without breaching Virgin's traffic management system and having their speed capped. Because that was not the case we concluded that the ad was misleading," said the ASA.
Virgin has used the fact that it has its own dedicated cable network as a major plank of its advertising. Competitors such as BT have to use telephone lines to reach houses with their service.
Virgin was ordered by the ASA to make sure that future adverts made it clear that download times would be restricted during peak hours.