Regulators to examine 'unlimited' data claims

The Advertising Standards Authority has asked the bodies that write the UK's advertising codes to review the rules about 'unlimited broadband' claims

Advertising regulators are to review the use of the term 'unlimited' in advertisements by fixed and mobile operators.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) watchdog asked the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) — the bodies that write the UK's advertising codes — to "review the current rules", an ASA spokesman told ZDNet UK on Friday. Although the request was made a month ago, it only emerged this week.

The request was made "in light of the fact that the telecoms sector is so fast evolving and consumer expectations are changing in terms of what they deem to be acceptable", the spokesman said, adding that there was no timeframe yet for a response from the CAP and BCAP. The issue with the use of the word 'unlimited' is that the services being advertised as such almost always have 'fair-use' conditions that limit usage.

In a New Media Age article published on Thursday, ASA communications and policy manager Lynsay Taffe is quoted as saying a broad policy on the use of the word 'unlimited' in relation to data usage would be preferable to the current scenario, where the ASA has to make piecemeal adjudications on such claims.

"We've looked at a number of complaints about individual ads in the telecoms sector regarding access speeds and usage limits and found that applying a single policy to how telecoms providers advertise can pose significant challenges," Taffe said. "It's important that we look at this on a broader policy level with service providers, other regulators and consumer groups, rather than relying on individual ASA rulings that focus on a particular service on one platform."

The ASA's move comes as operators are, in any case, starting to shy away from 'unlimited' offers. Although it has taken longer than the 2009 timeframe predicted in 2008 by Ovum, the operators say that costs associated with the data explosion — characterised by services such as iPlayer — has made such offers less tenable.

A week ago, the mobile operator O2 said it would put explicit caps on its mobile data plans, due to the strain being put on its network by new smartphones, which use more data than earlier handsets. The mobile industry is also looking to tiered bandwidth pricing as a possible response to devices such as the iPad, which is predicted to encourage more data use than mobile broadband dongles.