One asterisk can ruin your whole day

One asterisk can ruin your whole day

Summary: When broadband providers offer packages that you think look to good to be true, you're rarely disappointed.

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When broadband providers offer packages that you think look to good to be true, you're rarely disappointed.

So there I was, driving along Melbourne's South-East Freeway when it loomed ahead of me, larger than life: Internet service provider TPG Internet is offering a AU$69.95 ADSL2+ Super broadband package that allows 150 gigabytes a month of downloads.

As anybody who follows these kinds of things knows, that's several times the maximum that most ISPs offer. I'm sure that deal has had more than a few eager motorists nearly driving off the road in their haste to write down TPG's phone number.

There is, of course, a catch: 110GB of that limit must be used in the wee hours between 1am and 7am -- in other words, when most of us are asleep. Perhaps my imagination is limited, but the only possible thing that your average punter will do with that much bandwidth is set up about a dozen BitTorrent downloads before going to bed, then snooze away happily while their TPG service clogs up their hard drive with gigabytes' worth of poor-quality latest releases.

It would have to be a lot of latest releases indeed: by my maths, downloading 110GB in 180 hours (six hours a day times 30 days a month) would require a continuous data flow of 611 megabytes per hour, 10MB per minute, or 169 kilobytes per second. For those of us used to thinking in megabits per second, that's around 1.5Mbps of continuous bandwidth consumption, full to the brim.

Odds are that most people will run out of movies they want to download far before they get anywhere near to generating this kind of traffic, which leads me to the point of this blog: so much of marketing is an absolute myth. TPG may well offer a great service, and it may well be possible to download 110GB of data in the time allotted -- but in reality, the number 150 is nothing more than an arbitrary figure which bears little reflection to most people's actual usage habits.

So, marketers are stretching reality a bit to sell their product, you say. The sky is blue, the winter dreary, and Nicole Ritchie is so desperate to outdo Paris Hilton that she'll even try for a longer jail sentence. What's new?

Before you click away shrugging, I'd like to draw your attention to exhibit two: Dodo Internet. Also keen to cash in on the ADSL2+ fad, Dodo Internet recently launched its own ADSL2+ service, for "free". .

Presuming for a moment that your average punter has any idea what the hell ADSL2+ is, anyway, this sounds like a great deal for the average punter. Until, that is, you read the fine print -- which is a disaster for anybody considering doing pretty much anything online at all.

The fine print -- which is there to see for those that have rightly learned to be sceptical of telcos bearing gifts -- points out that while you can get speeds of up to 24Mbps using ADSL2+, Dodo has set up the 'free' plan so you get just 150MB of data before you start paying for it -- at AU$0.18 per megabyte.

Downloading 150GB of data -- for which TPG will charge you AU$69.95 -- would cost you AU$26,973.00 with Dodo. Of course, Dodo recognises this is far too much for the average punter, so it limits the price of its 'free' ADSL2+ service to just AU$29.95 per month.

Reaching that amount will require downloading just 166.38 additional MB of data, or 316.38MB if you include the 'free' 150MB. At the theoretical maximum speed offered by ADSL2+, 24Mbps, you can hit that ceiling in approximately 105.46 seconds; at more likely speeds of 1.5Mbps, you will get 1687.36 seconds (28 minutes) of 'free' ADSL2+ joy.

After this point, your shiny new 24Mbps ADSL2+ connection will be cut to 64Kbps -- about the speed of a 1996-era ISDN connection -- and you will cry profusely while beating your fists on the table and wondering why you didn't read the fine print before committing yourself to paying AU$29.95 a month for a 64Kbps Internet connection for the next two years.

Before you argue that nobody would fall for this, consider a news release I received this week, which said that since launching the free ADSL2+ deal Dodo's sales "have dramatically increased".

I am not the first one to point out how deceptive the Dodo plan is, and of course caveat emptor applies as with all things. However, I think comparing Dodo's approach to Internet marketing with TPG's highlights just how hard it is to get a realistic expectation of what broadband really entails. Telstra spent most of the early part of this decade starving the country of decent speeds as it promoted ISDN over ADSL; even now, prevailing wisdom is that we are supposed to accept that we should be thankful for services with speeds as low as 256Kbps.

If you are comfortable with this, make sure you never visit Singapore, where last December local ISP StarHub began marketing 100Mbps Internet connections with no usage caps for a maximum of S$121.80 (AU$91.44 by current exchange rates). Of course, to get that service you must live in Singapore -- but every silver lining has its grey cloud.

No wonder Australia's broadband is still failing to live up to that available in cutting-edge telecoms markets like Poland and Mexico. While we're down here trying to make sense of the ISPs' marketing-speak, the rest of the world is just getting on with doing the job.

Hiding ridiculous or unrealistic terms of service behind a little asterisk, then blaming consumers for not understanding the deception to which they have succumbed, may not be illegal under Trade Practices Act legislation (although I would welcome opinions from legal types out there). However, it hardly seems like the kind of discourse that's going to improve things on the whole.

Perhaps some full disclosure, paired with honest and consumer-friendly advertising, would be a good start -- so people can understand exactly why their broadband is so utterly sub par.

Topics: Broadband, Networking, Telcos, TPG, NBN

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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37 comments
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  • They're just playing catch-up ...

    Yes, it's sad that we're now seeing this type of advertising is coming our way from ISP's, but these people are simply trying to catch up to the masters of spin - Telstra.
    When is the last time you can remember any simple, un-numbered, un-asterisked sales claims from Telstra?
    Along with words like "up to .... " and "from as low as ... "
    Need I say more?
    anonymous
  • Confusopoly

    I work for one of the top four telcos and spend much of my day prodding marketing and legal types to use plain language and avoid asterisks. Just saw Optus' latest offer on a flyer included with a newspaper and they had an asterisk, a dagger symbol, the funny double-beam cross symbol and a tilde to point to the various bits of fine print.

    Thing is, it's entirely possible to say things clearly and still keep your point. Instead of "unlimited" you can say "no excess charges". They're just lazy!
    anonymous
  • Buyer aware

    Hi

    i'm a tpg reseller, now thats out, lets look at the facts.
    someone going for the tpg adsl2+ super plan WOULD probably be a seasoned user.
    $70/m is a lot for a mum/dad user.
    there are plenty of other cheaper tpg plans to cater for that type of use.
    someone going for the super plan WILL be fully aware of the limits and times.
    just look at the wp discussion on this -
    http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=771894
    i doubt anyones been sucked in by a rouge * here or * there

    clear discussion with a dealer leads to clear understanding of both parties and what the user expects from the plan.

    or just walk into a telstra store and get a great bundle deal....not

    D
    anonymous
  • Non Legal Type

    I am not a legal type but I do believe there is wiggle room in the law to allow a ruling on fair practices with *. One only need look at GST and Airline Tickets to see that the ACCC has jumped into the act in the past (Slowly mind you).
    I must say there is a certain point where some people just plain need a good whack accross the back of the head (unfortunately some of my relatives fall into this category). I mean surely 15 years of Phone, Mobile, Cable, Dialup and now Broadband *'s means that at least some people have learnt a thing or two. Its not like any of these ploys are brilliant new strategies at selling stuff.
    anonymous
  • TPG

    Hoy! >=|
    Don't you badger TPG about their 150GB plan and start coming up with figures out of the air.
    Personally I sync in at 8/1Mbit.. If I was on that plan I would have no trouble burning the full 150GB just in off-peak hours. The usage is just there "IF" you want to use it. TPG obviously have a lot of spare bandwidth during those hours and are handing out data like candy. And here you are, big man with his articles, badgering them about an asterix.
    Find me a 40GB ADSL2+ plan with that much off-peak usage for $70/M and available in the same exchanges as TPG and I'll buy you a shiney new hat sir!
    Until you can I'll sit here with my 50GB of data and 256k shaping and enjoy one of the few ISPs in Australia that actually have some value in their plans.

    Now go bother Telstra or some other failure of an ISP.. don't pick on TPG for giving you value sir. >=|

    Pool's Closed.
    anonymous
  • TPG

    Why do you bag out TPG when its simply the best value for money - even if the offpeak is not taken into consideration...

    What a stupid piece of journalism
    anonymous
  • There are HONEST GOOD deals out there

    Just reading the news article I get the impression that David thinks that an ISP that charges a low price or has a high data allowance, they are going to fail to deliver, or are part of some deception.

    I use www.aanet.com.au for my internet, and pay $45 a month for a 1500k plan with 16GB of data. Its the cheapest in the marketplace.

    I think that proves that there are honest and good deals out there - you just need to look. Maybe next time david writes an article, instead of pointing out the bad he should also point out the good?
    anonymous
  • Why aren't they all doing it.

    If there is so much spare bandwidth kicking around in the wee hours (which common sense suggests there is) why don't all ISP's provide on/off peak terms on all plans. I get 40GB from Internode, which I exceed about half the time, and therefore can't justify jumping to their 80GB plan. How about not metering some of that off peak time guys!!!
    anonymous
  • Missing the point about TPG

    This plan can be attractive to a market segment that understands the use of scheduling, as well as other methods of downloading data during off peak periods.

    However there are some other details to be aware of before joining TPG.

    * $350 early exit charge (6 months minimum contract, up to 18 months)

    * $69.95 30 days notice of cancellation cost

    These costs are high, but not exactly unheard of in an industry where the main players have more small print in their contracts than can be found in an ant farm.
    anonymous
  • TPG

    It is not just a little *. I saw it on an add on a bus in Sydney and it clearly said 40gb peak, 110GB off peak... No need to go to the web site to find out the trap like Dodo.
    anonymous
  • There's nothing like a well written piece

    And this is NOTHING like a well written piece.

    David Braue, Journalist*


    *only a journalist between 1am and 7am, eg, when he's dreaming.
    anonymous
  • Isn't it too good?

    I am from a non English speaking background, but I believe in the title of the article you have a grammatical mistake. Shouldn't it be:
    ....that you think look too good to be true,....?
    Cheers
    anonymous
  • Whoa, wasn't bagging TPG

    I could not stand here in good faith and say they're anything but a great deal -- certainly they are offering more bandwidth than anybody else that I'm aware of in the market. I was just trying to point out that that's a heck of a lot of data to be offering -- more than most people would ever use in a month, and certainly not on an ongoing basis.

    Many customers who just want the most broadband for their dollar will see that and think 'that's great' and they'd be right. Then again, as another person here pointed out, $70 a month *is* still expensive for many customers who may be better suited with a lower volume plan. Heck, I get 36GB of allowance a month and rarely come even close to filling it.

    My point was that there is a broad inconsistency in the way broadband is being marketed in Australia -- on the one hand you have companies over-delivering while providing value, and on the other you have them using deceptive advertising to suck in consumers. Consumers really need to know what you're looking for, and be aware of how the ISPs portray their services, to make sure they're getting a package that suits their needs. As broadband providers continue trying to bring in new customers, they're marketing to lots of people that wouldn't know a gigabyte from a hole in the ground. I would love to hear the results of a straw poll at a suburban shopping centre, to see just how many people can actually explain concepts like Mbps and bandwidth shaping. If potential customers don't understand it, ISPs need to help them make the right choices.
    anonymous
  • That was actually my point

    See my comment above!
    anonymous
  • ISP Advertising

    Whilst I think he chose the wrong ISP to mention (TPG are alright), I think the gist here is the way ISP�s market their plans. For my mind, it all went downhill in the early days. Optus was offering true , unlimited cable. Telstra, being Telstra, wanted to charge their users more for a worse service, but still wanted it to be called unlimited, in order to give the marketing illusion that it was. The government body that ruled on it, for some reason sided with Telstra. That decision can be blamed for the current state. After that, why should Optus offer a true unlimited plan, when the competition was allowed to falsely claim the same? So we started seeing limits being brought in, and the dreaded astrix.
    AS for Dodo, their plans are criminal, as is their fine print. Nuff said.
    anonymous
  • Don't bite what you can't swallow

    Hat's off to TPG for the 40GB/110GB/$69/ADSL2 plan!
    Its what I call 'unlimited' - its hard to blow all that quota unknowingly
    Also, if its too much to download for you, then there's plenty of cheaper/lesser alternatives out there
    While I don't like TPG personally, its still an innovative product and kudos for them for marketing it and bringing more competition to the market place
    anonymous
  • So called "high costs"

    TPG have LIMITED the disconnection charge to $350. You pay everyone month you have left, until you hit $350 when it's capped.

    If you had an 18 month contract, and left after 6 months, for many ISP's that would incur a full pro-rata disconnection fee, (using the 40/110 plan as an example) of $840. With TPG it's $350. If you leave with 3 months left it's $210. It's done to protect TPG, because not every exchange is full of people, and they need to pay TELSTRA for the port even if someone does not replace the cancelling customer..

    Also, * $69.95 30 days notice of cancellation cost is BLATANTLY false. Look at TPG's "Additional Pricing" page where you will see that if you cancel once the contract's initial period is done, that you only have to give 30 days notice, NOT pay $69.95.

    In contract = Payout contract (why is this a surprise to anyone) and TPG graciously limit it to $350.
    Out of contract = 30 days notice.

    I came from Internode to TPG:
    Internode: Spend an hour on the phone on hold.
    Paid double the price I have with TPG.
    Had a service I was heavily convinced to sign up to use cancelled with a days notice.
    Said price then had FORTY dollars added to it, after THREE months with them.

    TPG:
    Phone operator picks up in a minute.
    Pay 2 and a half times LESS money than the plan with internode AND I get nearly 2 times the download allocation.
    Speed is faster (up to 1000 kb/s.)
    Upload is really fast (up to 100 kb/s)

    Shocking "journalism" to attack TPG over a plan they clearly state (and also consulted their main target for, weeks before fully introducing it) the fees, charges and usage pattern. This is one of the best value plans in the history of broadband, this is as good as their $50 20gb plan that introduced so many people like myself to the internet.
    anonymous
  • Deliberately Deceptive Marketing Rife

    I agree that deliberately deceptive marketing has become the norm in Australia. Whilst Telco's are indeed the masters, many more sectors are beginning to apply the same principles. I saw an ad recently for a bank that offered 1 Billion transactions per month for only $5. A quick read of the fine print reveals a number of transaction types that are excluded.
    I personally am sick of being offered something for free, when I know that is patently not true. Ask for the free part of the deal, without any obligation to purchase the paid part, and you quickly learn that what is touted as free is not.
    I imagine there is a law somewhere that requires advertising to pass a test of reasonableness, but I'm buggered if anyone ever enforces it.
    anonymous
  • Wrong Target, Try Again

    Let's say I accept TPG was misleding consumers with the 150Gb* for $69

    If a consumer choose this plan would they be dis-advantaged ? No not really as they still get 40Gb peak (compared to 25Gb from Telstra $119)

    Unlike Telstra UNLIMITED *Limited to 12Gb ????

    OR

    Telstra's 600Mb ADSL2+ with $150/gb at least Dodo limits the consumers costs. (I'm not supporting Dodo's dishonest position)

    Stories of Good Human interest are proportional to the amount of HARM they can do to the consumer.

    To prove my point.

    "Downloading 150GB of data ... would cost you AU$26,973.00 with Dodo" Limited to $30

    OR

    "Downloading 150GB of data ... would cost you AU$22,410.00 with TELSTRA"

    NOT Limited to $30.
    Who's The Monster ????
    anonymous
  • This is NOT one of the best value plans in the history of broadband

    YOU appear to be one of those customers TPG caught on the rebound after being jilted by Internode's massive price hike.

    The fact that YOU are praising what most TGP users (and dealers) euphamisticly refer to as "The Hell Desk", suggests that your desire to punish Internode outweighs anything else.

    One of the reasons why "BroadBand" is going to the dogs in this country, is because of the low standard set by the major players.

    Users expect to get ripped off, and will even go as far as to defend industry practices that insure that they will be ripped off.

    Anywhere else in the 1st world and these telco's would be hauled off and shot. Not in Oz 2007. And it gets worse. Get ready for WiFAUX <sigh>
    anonymous