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Why Virgin Media's 'unlimited data' ad was banned

Virgin Media misled its consumers in its latest advertisement, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled on Wednesday.

The company claimed their users could get "Unlimited data“ on one of their mobile 3G SIM-Only tariffs, but if customers exceeded the 3.5GB bandwidth within a 30-day period, their speeds would be drastically reduced.

And when I say drastically, I really mean it – the speeds dropped down to 384Kbps (0.38Mbps).

The ad was linked to Virgin Media's £20 per month VIP Plus Tariff, but the company did place the smallprint on a couple of its websites.

“Customers should expect speeds delivered up to 384kbps (3G), actual speeds experienced may be higher or lower and will vary by device and location,“ they said.

But several people saw nothing wrong in the ad, ISP Review reports, stating that "unlimited data“ claim wasn't misleading and could be substantiated, particularly because the quoted speed of 384Kbps generally only applied after they had used more than 3.5GB of data in any 30-day period.

Misleading ads

Virgin Media said that only two per cent of their customers ever hit this restriction, although that wasn’t enough to satisfy the ASA.

"Recent Ofcom research, published November 2014, on mobile broadband speeds, indicated that the average 3G speed delivered to smartphones was 6.1Mbit/s, and that that speed did not vary significantly between providers,“ it says in the ruling.

The ASA therefore considered that Virgin customers were likely to receive similar average speeds to that, rather than the “384kbps” referred to in the small print.

"Given the speeds we understood consumers were likely to achieve before the restriction, we considered that they were likely to notice the drop in speeds once the restriction was applied, as had a number of the complainants. We considered that a reduction in speed from an average we understood to be approximately 6Mbit/s to 384kbit/s once the limit was reached, was more than a moderate reduction."

"Because we considered the limitation imposed on speeds to be more than moderate, we concluded that the claim “unlimited data” was misleading."

ASA banned the ad an warned Virgin Media "not to claim that a service was ‘unlimited’ if the limitations that affected the speed or usage of the service were more than moderate."

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Sead Fadilpašić

Sead is a freelance journalist with more than 15 years of experience in writing various types of content, from blogs, whitepapers, and reviews to ebooks, and many more, across sites including Al Jazeera Balkans, TechRadar Pro, IT Pro Portal, and CryptoNews.