back to article Virgin Media chucks rocks in 'unlimited' debate

Cable incumbent Virgin Media has called on ADSL rivals to stop marketing their services as "unlimited", when fair use policies often mean they aren't. As exclusive owner and operator of its infrastructure, Virgin is able to guarantee unlimited downloads, but told The Reg ADSL providers shouldn't try to do the same because they …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unlimited misrepresentation

    Yes indeed. Unlimited means unlimited, and misrepresentation of something which blatantly *isn't* unlimited is precisely that -- blatant misrepresentation.

    It's time the powers that be stopped looking at smallprint that nobody should be expected to read and shouldn't need to be there in the first place, and insisted that the LARGE print tells the truth, the WHOLE truth and absolutely nothing but the truth.

  2. Rob

    Virgin upfront my arse!

    Virgin brand maybe upfront about their small print but they make up for that by having useless staff that will make a complete hash of anything service or product you're buying from them, Media, Holidays, you name it.

    We have a bouycot on all Virgin brands because of there useless services.

  3. Matt

    Up Front doesn't equal good

    They may be "up front" about the small print, but recently that has meant them writing to me a lot telling me that prices are going up and things that used to be free (e.g. call itemisation, even online) are now going to cost....

    Up-front just means they tell you that everything is going to cost lots more.

  4. David Harold

    Virgin are a major "unlimited" liar

    Certainly when I signed up for Virgin Broadband (ADSL) their website was dripping with "unlimited downloads" claims but after just a month on the service I got a letter requesting me to stay beneath 40GB of downloads.... pot, kettle, black...

  5. Liam


    they are only trying to distract us from the fact they have taken skyone from us and handed us a bunch of shite back in return (series 1 of tuck and nip - ooooh and a new service that seems to lock if you try to use it) if i could justify sky prices for the amount of TV i watch (i have over 900 DVDs so i dont need tv really) i would switch in a second

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Virgin sucks

    I'm an existing Virgin adsl customer on an 8 meg connection.

    My 'unlimited' account is subject to a fair use policy (40gig a month).

    I've recently had an email from them threatening me with account closure as I had 'greatly exceeded' my monthly allowance. My router stats indicate 43gig in and 7 gig out in the previous 30 days..

    Go figure??

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unlimited? Like hell!

    As a 4MB ("Large") Virgin (nee Telewest) customer in Preston, I call bullshit. The "traffic throttling" and "upload rate testing" often means my connection drops from the 4MB/s that I pay for to around 1MB/s speeds (and it is more expensive than a similar ADSL package - unlimited was the selling point).

    If you are going to throttle heavy users, then the service isn't unlimited. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that every week, an unlimited user of Virgins service will be able to download 147 / 295 / 738GB (M / L / XL services from Virgin). As I'm being throttled and only download around 100GB a month, I feel mildly cheated, and this is rubbing salt into the wounds.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Virgin reckons its brand history of being up front about small print would avoid such a confrontation with subscribers"

    What about claiming that you didn't have to have take out a 12 months contract with them, but had a hidden charge if you tried to switch within 12 months... Hmm, so if that's not a contract, what is?

    Upfront? Not in my book!

  9. HeavyLight

    People in glass houses...

    There maybe no download limit but, following a 'heavy' downloading month (95GB instead of the usual 75GB), my 4Mb VM connection (in Bath) now has it's upload capped at about 150Kb/s.

    Just try finding that in the small print...

  10. John Stirling

    oh crap

    I've just moved to the VM large - primarily because my wife was getting pissed off at the crappy freeview signal we get, and being a plusnet subscriber I decided that it was finally time to make the jump. It's this weekend I was going to move the wireless router across.

    Have I made a terrible mistake?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Tack is All Wrong

    I used to be a customer of Telewest when they didn't have a so called 'fair usage' section to there contract. I used to recommend Telewest to others, partly on that basis, partly because they did provide a very good service. I moved away for a while, returned to my old address and tried to get a Telewest account only to find Virgin running the show.

    I signed up for an 'unlimited' account but asked if there was any kind of so called 'fair use' policy. I was told yes, so asked how they could possibly call the account 'unlimited'. After much humming and hawing the woman said that it is very rarely invoked - she had never known it to be invoked. End of conversion, I need an internet connection and that is that.

    However, from my point of view the rub of this is not the 'unlimited' nature of the issue; it's the 'fair use' thing - people are focusing complaints in the wrong direction. If I sign up for (say) a 2 meg connection then I should have the capability to use that as I please, full-rate-24/7 if I please because that is what I am looking to rent and expect to get. 'Fair use' clauses in contracts were slid in under the carpet and Virgin is no exception to this. Their sales reps don't know how to square the circle over 'unlimited' + 'fair use' and frankly I don' t think it can be. If it's unlimited it has to be just that. But how did this turn up in one time Telewest accounts now transfered to Virgin? Virgin is going where the wind is blowing and that, I would say, is to a future in which the internet will bit by bit be turned over to satisfy the needs of commercial enterprises to feed their mostly vacuous swill into more and more TV's and multimedia equipment lashed into internet connections.

    From the early days of the internet being turned over from military service to (the prospect of) public service the 'entertainment' industry has been slithering around trying to figure a way of getting bucks out of it - and make no mistake they will do that at public cost. Truth is they want to do it at public cost. This entire issue of so called 'fair use' has to be looked at in terms of longer term strategy in which the final aim is how does this entertainment industry literally take over control of the internet; take control of access out of collective hands such they can dictate who accesses, at what rate, for what and when.

    Other articles in The Register seem to be putting pointers in this direction. The critical question here is, "What happens when there is such demand for bandwidth because of people who otherwise have no real interest in the internet wanting to watch personally selected tripe on their TV's ?" The answer, of course, is that by then big companies will want to be in a position where they can control who is using what bandwidth, for what, and when. So called, 'fair use' policies are the beginning of that.

    Virgin slipped the 'fair use' clause into Telewest contracts and that wasn't and isn't being done in an up-front way. And the manoeuvre that is really being made isn't even being mentioned. There is a principle here concerning a public utility that is being entirely overlooked. It is nothing short of extreme folly (future generations would surely curse us for it) to allow commercial companies to lever themselves into a position whereby they confer upon themselves the authority and power to decide what (so called) 'fair use' is over something like the internet. Virgin being up-front? You must be joking. None of them are up-front.

  12. Rod

    Other ISPs- ?Toucan blocks P2P

    Virgin is not the only one undertaking strange bandwidth restrictions recently.

    After several emails saying that they would throttle my bandwidth for exceeding their "fair useage" upload limit (which is measley 0.75GB per month), it appears that ADSL based Toucan are now disabling P2P ports during peaks periods. If you try to login between 5pm and 11pm you are now rewarded with lowID and no server connects....

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lies, damned lies and advertising

    I kind of agree with Virgin Media about the false advertising of "unlimited" services. And if the ASA were to look into it, why not also have a go at the adverts that do speed/price comparisons based on only the theoretical speed of ADSL, (which you're only going to get if you're INSIDE one of the new exchanges), like the one I got recently from a certain satellite TV company...

    Got to say that it's only a matter of time before VM put in these "fair use" policies, and if the unofficial limit* is 40GB/month then I can live with that. What I can't live easily is the fact that my "4Mb/s" connection seems to have shrunk after the "Virgin Media" rebranding to an effective 2Mb/s (at best), but I've had no accompanying reduction in price! >-(

    (* I say "unofficial limit" because I guarantee that VM will fail to talk about this. I've found their customer services to be pretty good, but as a company they're rubbish about telling you about things - like new channels)

  14. Dillon Pyron

    And the US

    I get a 6 Mb connection (cable) from Time Warner with no limits. It's one 840 up, but I can live with that. Of course, I pay $45 a month for the "privilege".

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    simply see what the real customers are saying

    simply see the VM thread to see what the real customers are saying

  16. Joel

    Remember contention?

    Have people forgotten contention? You pay for a connection to the exchange, but the speed you can actually get depends upon what other people are doing. ADSL is a contended service. If you want uncontended service, you need to get a leased line, at hundreds of pounds a month for a 2Mbs service. Even these will be contended at some point on a route to the internet.

    There are business ADSL lines which offer unlimited services, but these cost more than consumer ADSL, and are still contended. You get what you pay for.

    However, in other countries, in parts of Europe, the US and Korea, internet connections are based on fibre-optic solutions and 100Mbps + is available. This is what we should be pressing for, rather than trying to flog the dead horse of ADSL.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, Duh !

    Anybody who seriously expects to get "unlimited" bandwidth needs a check up from the neck up.

    None of them are capable of delivering unlimited bandwidth, because they don't have access to unlimited bandwidth. There are only so many "phat pipes" to go around. Not to mention contention ratios, latency, hardware issues at both ends and the limits of a gigabit switch to deal with all the incoming requests. If you sign up with a company that is obviously lying, then you get what you deserve.

    I started with BT in about 1999 (broadband) and have stayed with BT ever since. My connection has gone from 512kbps to around 6Mbps in that time and the price has come down. BTW, they don't offer unlimited bandwidth AFAIK, and I do know that I get a 40GB/month limit. Where's the problem ?

    If some of these whining newbies had had to suffer a 28kbps connection for £14.99 / month then they wouldn't be complaining now !

    Next up, idiot finds out that the free gift he got from signing up with BUPA was actually paid for through his subscription ...

    <whine>But they said it was free !</whine>

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can anyone recommend a good broadband service?

    I have Tiscali 'unlimited' broadband, which was marketed as 'ideal for heavy users' when I signed up for it. Everytime I have tried to use my broadband for, well, basically anything anyone might want broadband for (downloading large files, playing streaming media, online gaming) at peak times (usually 5 pm till 11 pm, but not always) I have recieved nasty letters and e-mails reminding me of the fair use policy. The fair use policy appears to amount to only using my broadband to look at web pages and read e-mails. I have often had my 'bandwidth shared with other heavy users' at which times it has taken up to 15 minutes to download the front page of Yahoo.

    As far as I can see, it is only unlimited in that I can download as many Yahoo frontpages at 15 minutes per time as I am able per month. Which sucks.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Virgin you are a joke!

    They say they're UNLIMITED too but have a fair use policy where the limit is 40GB, i've had a letter for going over the limit and so have many others i know. Virgin must think were all STUPID and DUMB. This is just like a publicity stunt for them they're a childish company, look at the Sky tantrums they had. this is just an extension of that tantrum.

    Virgin you don't pull the wool over my eyes!

  20. Matt

    'Fair' use of your bandwidth

    And those who download 90-100Gb a month are downloading legitimate data? Not warez DVDr's, tv episodes and pirated games, that some of the aforementioned media companies are also offering as part of their services? I think sometimes people lose track of where they stand in what is 'fair'. Complaining you can't use your broadband for illegal purposes is like complaining the police arrested you while you were robbing the bank.

    I do agree with the comments about not letting commercial entities make the decision on what the usage of the internet should be, and also aware of the fact that bandwidth demands are going to rise dramatically as more services are available on demand, but i can't see how a home user can legitimately use 100Gb of bandwidth in a month in the here and now.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes. 'Fair' use of my bandwidth.

    It is frankly ludicrous to assume that everyone using a significant amount of bandwidth is a hardened bootlegger of warez and DVDs, and thus deserves everything they get.

    Myself and my flatmate use 30-40 GB per month. That mostly goes on playing Rainbow Six on Xbox Live and browsing quite legal porn, along with a variety of legitimate downloads. Clearly we are not very lovable individuals, but do we truly deserve our throttled bandwidths and all the threatening letters telling us to 'stop ruining the internet experiences of normal users who just want to read their e-mails'?

    Unlimited bandwidth is obviously just limited bandwidth, but without anything in writing except a vague 'fair-use policy'. The companies that are selling it are then free to make their limits and punishments up as they see fit. In hindsight the various 'limited' bandwidth offers would have been a much better deal.

  22. Steve Roper

    Throttling doesn't work - we've tried it

    "Traffic management" and "heavy-user bandwidth throttling" doesn't work. My ISP here in Australia (Internode) used to have such a feature on their "Extreme" plans, only they called it "prioritisation". Instead of imposing an absolute download cap, they allowed their users to download as much as they wanted, but the more you'd downloaded in the last seven days, the closer you got to the front of the prioritisation queue when more people contended for the bandwidth. Then you speed would be reduced only by the amount necessary to give everyone else their nominal bandwidth. This "rolling seven-day download count" got confusing, and necessitated a whole layer of monitoring systems that simply bogged everything down.

    So Internode, weathering a raft of complaints in the process, simply got rid of it, and imposed monthly caps on all plans, with a choice of "Premium" (pay extra per MB if you go over your cap) or "Shaped" (get slowed to 128/64 kbps if you go over your cap). Now their plans range from 10GB/mo entry level up to 90GB/mo Pro level. And I have no complaints. I get my full speed right up to the cap, without having to wonder if I'm being "prioritised" for downloading too much this week. And the shaping isn't hard and fast, either - if you go over the cap by a couple of GB and you're near the rollover date, they won't shape your speed in the few days left. So you can easily get 95GB out of a 90GB plan if you need it, and it's this "give a little" approach that is the reason I've stayed with Internode all this time (nearly 4 years now).

    Broadband in Australia is not up to the standard in most developed countries, because of the vast distances across inhospitable terrain between our various cities. In Adelaide, where I live, it's 700 miles to Melbourne, 1000 miles to Sydney, 1300 miles to Brisbane, 1500 miles to Darwin and 2000 miles to Perth. And there's nothing in between. So we either have to use satellite uplinks (expensive) or transcontinental cable/repeater networks over thousands of miles of arid, rocky desert (even more expensive). In the face of this, Internode does a pretty good job, they're on the ball with the latest technology, and they don't make "unlimited" claims.

    So, Virgin and all the other ISP's considering trialling this "prioritisation" technique, take a lesson from Down Under. It doesn't work. It just pisses your customers off more. Just do like Internode and be honest about what your cap limits are, then "give a little" if someone goes over by a couple of GB. That does work.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where Does the Commercial Intention Lie?

    Have to admit that I'm learning a fair bit from what has been posted here; the idea of contention is new to me. However, to that I would have to throw in the notion of 'intention' - 'commercial intention'.

    It seems to me that an ISP must have some fair idea of the kind of bandwidth it can reliably provide to a pool of users. From there surely the maths and statistics would lead them to a figure that says, "We could with some certainty provide x number of users with this total bandwidth and more or less guarantee that could be sustained even if the pool of users were running their connections at full-tilt 24/7." I'm sure that mathematicians/statisticians of even average ability could work something like that out. In that way a company like Virgin Media could surely say that they could afford to have x number of users and guarantee their connection rates.

    So, why aren't they doing something like this? Answer: because they don't want to limit their business growth over a tawdry little issue like giving customers what they said they would get in their advertisments; the commercial intention, straight from base zero, is to cap and that will happen because Virgin will actively encourage over-subscription because they won't want to limit their business growth and will be happy to do that at the cost of providing what they said they would give.

    I would also want to say that it seems to me on the legal/illegal issue of what users are doing with connections is really becoming, will in the fairly close future become, a pretty well dud issue (if all they are doing is downloading movies, audio etc.). Don't people get it? Users are fast coming to see fast internet connections as a form of utility - like electricity and gas. That view is somewhat justified. For example, the Revenue and Customs in the UK regularly do recruitment via *online application only*. Think about it. Let's push that forward ten years - where are we going to be? There is no way that any company, like for example Virgin, is going to stop people downloading movies, audio and so forth - people are going to be so wired (and all that goes with it) that they are going to put tremendous pressure on politicians to get commercial control of internet connections right outside of companies that provide access. This *is* the future. Read the articles here in The Register. It's obvious the way the Average Joe sees a connection to the internet - and Average Joe is right, because in social terms that is what the internet is.

    So what should be done? Obvious, companies that deal with internet connections should for now be operating on a 'can guarantee' model of limited growth for their businesses - it's the only way they can reliably guarantee users rate x 24/7 - 24/7 full-rate is the only way that companies should be allowed to calculate this kind of thing. And if people want an improvement to that, what then?

    Well, here come the politicians. When will they assent to people doing illegal things that suck up bandwidth like (shock horror) downloading free movies , software and all the other things that computer savvy folks have come to love and expect? (Remember, computers in *every* school and, hey kids you had best learn. You bet they'll learn and a damned sight more than the teacher 'ill tell 'em.) The politicians will, of course, assent when their jobs are on the line over the issue. It's that or start dragging *millions* into court on behalf of the media industry (protected species in current form) - that's a hoot that one. And when they assent (they will) the pressure for improvement in infra-structure will be part of the package of popular demand.

    The world is changing and I can't see Virgin taking the attitude it is taking when connection is realised for what it is because there will be so much pressure to have one - utility, like water, gas and electricity. Virgin, you dummies, you got it all wrong - when do think you would get people to accept that they have 70 per cent of their water needs met because you have the commercial intention to over-subscribe?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That's bit rich of Virgin considering that I have received email warning from them about excessive usage on my ADSL, went over 40GB. Oops, do as I say and not as I do springs to my mind.

  25. Chris Cheale


    Virgin "broadband" is not one service; there's Virgin cable broadband (what used to be NTL/Telewest) and the Virgin ADSL broadband from before the Virgin Mobile, NTL/Telewest merger (buyout, whatever).

    The cable one is unlimited as it's Virgin's own fibre optic cable network the ADSL one isn't as it's BT's copper wires and Virgin have to buy the bandwidth from BT Wholesale (or fit their kit in the local exchanges - LLU).

    So long as Virgin DSL get slapped along with the rest for misleading use of the "unlimited" moniker, it should be fine.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Such Trust

    I'm thinking that Chris is missing a point.

    When Telewest supplied my cable broadband there was no 'fair use' clause in the contract for the time that had a service from them. Now I'm getting the same service from Virgin Media and, guess what, a so called 'fair use' clause is in the contract. Now either that got put there prior to the hand-over (at that point in time I didn't have a contract with Telewest) and if it did then, why then? Or, the boys at Virgin put it there (who knows, maybe Blue-eyes penned the parchment himself). Why? Now I have an 'unlimited' cable connection with a so called 'fair use' clause in it and Virgin sales staff muttering 'never invoked'. Mmm... 'Never invoked?. Well why the hell is it there, a desire to waste ink?' I don't think so.

    We're on a slippery slope in which companies that supply, even produce, media entertainment are incarnating as ISPs as well. Your ISPs. No kidding, and doing that over a network system that is shaping up to having utility status.

    Go figure. They have control of the flow to sell multi-media entertainment to the masses, and internet connections (supplied by them too) governed by so called 'fair use' policies. To invoke the fair use part they elect themselves as a kind of internet connection court and police force. Though who gave them the right and power to do that would make an interesting piece of reading, maybe one of them would like to explain, maybe Ofcom would like to explain. But when would they invoke it? Seems, this has something to do with when the network is being heavily used, or over-subscribed (commercially attractive if you can pull it off), depending on how you figure what they are up to. For what? For serving their entertainment. And now they have their mitts (when they can manage to stop counting the cash coming at them from two directions) on the stop-cocks that turn down (or off) the 'unlimited' internet connection you've paid for from them in the interests of them dinging da' till while they serve up more TV or a bucket of song. Personally, I'd call that outright abuse and we're being lined-up for it right now.

    If it keeps going the way it is going at this point in time then it will come to Anti-trust. But by then it might be too late. Too many principles would have been lost over what is or is not acceptable commercial conduct over use of infra-structure and internet connections. I wouldn't trust Blue-eyes, nor any other major commercial player, nor Ofcom, on this one as far as I could throw them.

    As best as I can see what is being played out now is manoeuvres holding a long-term view on how commercial interests legitimise their own growing control of internet connections. 'Fair use' and demonising of those who 'infringe' (infringe what - their business plan?) is part and parcel of that - that's why the clause is there. Virgin Media, up front? You *really are* joking.

  27. Steve Barnes

    Virgin lies - CHOOSE F2S! :-D

    I have looked in the past at Virgin Media for broadband as a cheaper option, and was impressed by their "unlimited" downloads claim (I use a minimum of 50gb p/month, usually closer to 80/90) but felt it would be too good to be true. So, I did a little researching around all of their terms and conditions and other small print thingemies (which isn't easy with Virgin trying to appear all laid back and casual!) and eventually found the 40gb fair usage rule. How is that unlimited? How would a LIMIT, of any size, be it 40 or 1000gb, be considered UNlimited? I'm writing to Ofcom about this as I consider this to be false advertising. And now the fact that they're trying to draw shame to other companies for doing the same as them is unbelievable!

    My ISP is Freedom2surf ( ) and have been for a few years now, and they're great. You pay more, but you get more. No ports blocked, all file-sharing welcome, static IP address, 20 email addresses and 200mb webspace ALL included, and it's £23.99 for 50gb limit or £29.99 for 100gb limit with 8mb download speeds (assuming your connection can handle this, mine can only handle 2) and have NEVER had downtime with them! Highly recommended! (I don't work for them btw, just a very very happy customer)

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