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Virgin Media reduces traffic management again after ASA ruling

Virgin Media has been forced to change the terms of its unlimited broadband service following another ruling from the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority). 

Complaints were raised by 22 competing ISPs about the wording on Virgin Media’s website, which stated that customers could enjoy ‘consistently fast broadband even at peak times’ and download as much as they liked with ‘no hidden caps or charges’. 

Virgin Media operates a traffic management policy, which slows down a small percentage of heavy users. The ASA has ruled that ISPs with traffic management in place are allowed to advertise their services as unlimited provided that the management is considered to be ‘moderate’. 

Read our guide to ISP’s traffic management policiesBack in March, Virgin Media changed the terms of traffic management after the ASA ruled that the penalties were ‘more than moderate’. At the time Virgin Media said that it was working out the details of what was considered moderate with the ASA and the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice). 

The policy would slow down customers who exceeded a set daily usage limit by 30 per cent and increase the brakes by a further 10 per cent for another hour, for a total of 40 per cent. 

Virgin Media argued that its adverts were not misleading. Citing figures from comparison site uSwitch, the cable broadband provider noted that the average peak slowdown time experienced by most broadband customers regardless of traffic management was 35 per cent. 

The ASA disagreed, saying that the uSwitch data did not represent customers experience as accurately as figures from Ofcom, which gathered data from customers at various times of the day, over 14,000 times. Line speeds from customers participating in the uSwitch survey were  were only tested once. 

The ASA ruled that this allow for a comparison between line speeds at peak and off peak times for that IP address and pointed to Ofcom’s figures, showing that slowdown from maximum speed to peak time speed ranged from 6 per cent to 16 per cent. 

Because of this, the ASA decided that the current management policy, which reduced speeds by 30 per cent (and possibly up to 40 per cent) was not moderate. 

As a result of this finding, Virgin Media has now updated the wording of its traffic management policy. The heaviest of users will now see their speeds cut by 10 per cent for the first hour and then by 16 per cent for the second hour. 

Following today’s announcement, Virgin Media’s broadband director Joe Lathan said: “The ASA has finally clarified what it believes to be moderate traffic management so we’re updating our policy and millions of UK homes continue to do more with Virgin Media than with any other provider thanks to our unbeatable, superfast broadband.” 
 
“However, it makes little sense to set the bar at 16 per cent while our competitors routinely deliver speeds 50 per cent slower than they claim.” 

The latest Ofcom broadband speed report showed that ADSL2+ services, many of which are advertised as providing speeds of up to 16Mbps, delivered average speeds around the 7-9Mbps mark. 

A slightly different picture emerged when Ofcom compared the speeds of fibre-based FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) services from BT and Plusnet with Virgin Media’s superfast cable broadband. 

Current rules on advertising download speeds state that an ISP can only quote a headline figure if it’s achievable by at least 10 per cent of its customers

Virgin Media has said in the past only 2.5 per cent of its customers are affected by traffic management.

Our guide to traffic managment provides a more detailed explanation on how each ISPs handles traffic on its network. 

Image: Rainbow_Lyf/Flickr

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