Virgin Media, in common with most other ISPs, says that the few people who make heavy use of their broadband link reduce capacity for everyone else, and that providing truly "unlimited" service for these few would mean higher bills for everyone. They do indeed have a point. If I want truly unlimited service then I'm sure I can get it, for a price. And the fact is that I probably don't want to pay the price. The occasions when I do want a multi-gigabyte download are sufficiently rare that I can put up with scheduling around Virgin's traffic limits.
So why am I depressed about it? Its because my problem with finding Virgin Media's traffic management policy is not unusual. A sample taken from Google found:
- TalkTalk have a 40GB monthly limit right up there on the front page, although I'm not sure if you can find out how much of your limit you have used this month. What happens when you use it all? Presumably you are cut off until next month.
- O2 claims "unlimited" usage, but if you search the site for the word "unlimited" you find that excessive use at peak times will lead to warnings and then account termination. They don't define "excessive" or "peak time". I couldn't find a link to this information from their list of broadband features; it certainly wasn't obvious.
- Tiscali have a similar policy, except that after three warnings they limit your peak time speed. They also don't define what "excessive" and "peak time" mean, and they don't say how long this will last or what the speed limit will be. This page was two not-very-prominent links away from the package features list.
- Fast actually sells a range of monthly capacity limits. They warn you by email when you hit 90%, and when you go over 100% they throttle you down to 100kBit/sec. Full marks!
I think that something needs doing about this. However the Advertising Standards Authority have wimped out: they have declared that "unlimited" actually means "95% of users don't hit the limit in any given month". So its hardly surprising that people are confused.
Therefore I have started an on-line petition at the Number 10 web site. If you are a British citizen or resident then I urge you to sign it. The petition calls on the Government to require ISPs to make all caps and limits on their services a prominent part of their advertising. Only when they do so will consumers have a clear choice between different packages.