/ Technology

Unlimited broadband: BT says ‘goodbye’ to fair usage policies

The word 'limit' crossed out

When it comes to so-called ‘unlimited’ broadband deals, disappointment has often reigned. But now BT is offering unlimited broadband without a fair usage policy, can we look forward to other providers following suit?

As of today, BT has followed in the footsteps of Sky and removed its fair usage policy, which it used to apply to its ‘unlimited’ broadband services.

This usage policy allowed BT to restrict broadband access or slow it down for those download-happy customers who were making the most of the package they had paid for. For those among you who subscribe to BT Unlimited Broadband, Unlimited Broadband Extra, Unlimited BT Infinity 1, Unlimited BT Infinity 2 or BT Total Broadband Option 3 – ‘unlimited’ will finally mean unlimited.

Unfair fair-usage policies

And that’s how it should be. Unfortunately, the Advertising Standards Agency’s rules mean that internet service providers are allowed to label a package as ‘unlimited’, just so long as the fair usage policies are mentioned somewhere in the ads. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem fair to me.

That’s why the Committee of Advertising Practice launched a consultation on this issue last year. Several solutions were up for consideration as part of the process, including the option to make ‘unlimited’ claims unacceptable for certain broadband services. This included services that came with a fair usage policy, which lead to extra charges or a suspended service if customers exceeded a certain usage limit.

Has a revolution begun?

The question remains whether BT jumped the gun before it was forced, but I believe credit is still due. Having launched its YouView TV service late last year, BT will be acutely aware that the way we use the internet is changing. On-demand services like BBC iPlayer mean we’re no longer a slave to the TV schedule, and our demand for downloads will increase. In addition, music streaming platforms like Spotify require a constant connection if we’re to take advantage of their vast catalogues.

Of course, there’s always the risk that some customers could get carried away trawling the internet for cat videos or perusing films on Netflix, which could negatively affect your own broadband speed.

So now BT has broken ranks with Sky to offer totally unlimited broadband, surely it’s just a matter of time until other providers follow suit? With Sky and BT offering truly unlimited broadband, will you be tempted to switch providers? Or are you concerned your service might slow down due to other, high-usage customers?

Should 'unlimited' broadband deals be truly unlimited?

Yes - there should be no fair usage policies on unlimited broadband (91%, 1,328 Votes)

No - fair usage policies are reasonable to keep the service going (9%, 138 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,472

Loading ... Loading ...

I’ll be happy if Virgin decide to do the same. With a 30Mbps connection I can reach my evening download limit of 3500 MB in about 20 minutes then get “traffic managed” for 5 hours. The connection is fast and reliable in my area and I rarely hit the limit but I find it downright deceitful of Virgin (and the others) to even pretend that a connection is “up to” ANY speed when they make it impossible to actually USE that speed.

Forgot to mention that there is obviously another download limit (of 7GB) through the day which will trigger ANOTHER 5 hour clampdown.

As I said, the limits don’t affect me much but the deceit is hateful.

Parp says:
7 February 2013

Well stop being a cheapskate and get the XXL which has no limitations no traffic management. You pay for what you get!

giverous says:
7 February 2013

Unfortunately the comment below if wrong. Virgin Media actually DO apply a fair usage policy, even to the XXL customers. You just get a higher limit….

Paul says:
7 February 2013

Parp you need to check your facts. Virgin Media have traffic management on all packages. One of the 100mb services and the 120mb have no form of download limits but they still slow down peer to peer.

Paul says:
7 February 2013

Actually I’m wrong all Virgin Media services have download caps which result in speeds being reduced along with traffic management.

Do away with the terms unlimited and fair usage and just provide a monthly limit with some roll-over, a far more sensible idea, more transparent and fairer .
Why should the majority subsidise the few who download 100’s of GB every month.

The same issue applies to Mobile Data where you can find in the small print that 500MB per month actually has quite small daily limits.

Draik says:
7 February 2013

Nonsense. I pay £40 a month on my phone line + broadband specifically so that I can use that download speed as much as I like, as a gamer – and at that kind of cost, to impose restrictions is simply absurd. Providing unlimited service is not nearly as difficult as the telecom companies would love us to believe, and I’m glad to see BT set this shit straight.

giverous says:
7 February 2013

That’s never going to work. For example, if I watch 2 films in an evening in highest quality on netfilx, that can be more than 2GB per hours for an HD film. So if both films are of average length, im already up to around 8GB of data. Now add in my girlfriend and our housemate. If we’re all watching programs, downloading games (Steam for example, will use about 70GB of download to install all of my commonly used games. Because of Virgins fair usage policies, I can only re-install steam after 11pm.

In terms of pricing, Virgin Media still make a huge % on the subscription charges compared to the cost of the bandwidth costs to themselves. It has been widely admitted that fair usage policies are there to fatten the profit margin and have nothing to do with network stability.

As for mobile networks, i’ve been with virgin and O2 and neither of them have a daily policy. If you buy 500MB you can use it as and when you see fit. If you want to blow the entire 500MB in a day, you can.

“The same issue applies to Mobile Data where you can find in the small print that 500MB per month actually has quite small daily limits.”

3 Mobile do not restrict your data usage. When my internet was down, I used my phone as a hotspot and still streamed videos / downloaded through steam etc.

Their ‘all-you-can-eat’ data policy means just that.

Richard says:
7 February 2013

@Matt Agreed. That’s why I went with 3 Mobile when I got my Nexus 4. Being able to tether to my tablet or laptop and not be concerned with data usage is great.

richard says:
6 February 2013

Interesting I’ve used Virgin for years – never encountered any limit – I use it for at least 4 hours a day – including downloading films.

This is the Virgin Media traffic management policy.

they also throttle the speed of certain protocols irrespective of usage.

richard says:
6 February 2013

As I said I have NEVER been limited all the years I have used Virgin – and I check often. If you monopolise the entire bandwidth – I’m sorry you should be limited for the sake of other users.

Kersh2099 says:
7 February 2013

I am also with Virgin on 30mb broadband, and some days I download up to around 30gb. I have never experienced any throttling of my connection at all.

Like Rarrar, I am concerned about light users subsidising those who make considerable use of broadband. We don’t have companies offering unlimited electricity or gas, so why have unlimited broadband?

Rob , so all that is really needed is redefining “unlimited” to mean what most people always thought it meant – unlimited !!
Just needs ASA to show some common sense.
The market place then would provide a range of properly defined usage packages .


I certainly support the removal of fair usage policies hidden in T&Cs if the service is referred to as ‘unlimited’. Let us hope that BT has planned for how much their customers might increase their use of broadband and for other contingencies, so that we do not see prices being pushed up during contract periods. We have seen enough of this with the mobile phone companies.

With many still experiencing low broadband speeds, especially at peak times, and some still on dial-up modems because no broadband service is available, I am not convinced that unlimited broadband should necessarily be the priority.

Brandon Rinebold says:
7 February 2013

It’s offered due to the completely negligable cost of transferring data. Adding throughput (transferring more bits in a given amount of time) is expensive and running lines to carry data to someone’e house is expensive. However, there is practically 0 cost difference between carrying 20GB of data at 20mb/s compared to carrying 20mb of data at 20mb/s.

Basically, once the cable company finishes running the lines to your house, no matter how mch or little you use your internet, it won’t make so much as a blip in their costs until they need to carry more data per second. That’s why you see ‘unlimited’ plans, because it doesn’t cost them an extra dollar to give you unlimited compared to capped usage.

It’s been proven time and time again that there are far more effective ways of managing peak bandwidth usage (what actually drives the need sto expensive capacity upgrades) than monthly data caps. The caps you usually see are either failures of the ISP’s ability to plan or a blatant cash grab since it’s in no way related to what actually drives their costs.

GAM3RNAT says:
7 February 2013

Took them long enough. I was thinking about changing to sky broadband.

Krister says:
7 February 2013

Just as a note, this has always been the case in Norway. I didnt even know “fair usage policies” existed….

Liam says:
7 February 2013

I am glad they have removed the usage policies. To be honest with you I have never seen any change in speed, I sit happily at 70-76mb throughout the day and night.

The only question I have is this:

Does it mean they will remove Peer-2-Peer Throttling during peak times?

Alot of the software I use is downloaded this, Linux mainly and some games update via this. I have to plan when I wish to download my updates else I sit at 5KB/s instead of 9,000KB/s

Great news for BT customers. I understand they have been updating their systems recently so can now cope with the extra demand.

Will be interesting to see whether the infer-structure of others like Virgin can cope with doing the same.

Been on BT for 16 months, been unlimited the whole time…not all the packages were unlimited, but I paid a premium for the highest one so that I got unlimited with no fair usage policy. I’m not sure if this means that BT are making ALL their packages unlimited, but this is not BT *finally* going unlimited, they’ve offered unlimited packages for a long time.

Can I just point out that Which? have edited the URL in my post of 6 February 2013 at 10:57 and it now goes to a completely different and much less useful page.

Hello Banjo, that was me as the link was very long and unwieldy. However, I used the very link that was original in your comment. I’ve now changed it to your preferred one. 🙂

I don’t mind the URL being tidied up but could you please leave it at the same page? This page lists, in plain numbers, the capping and throttling on every level of virgin Media. The page you edited above is nowhere near as easy to read.

Richard says:
7 February 2013

With Virgin Media having been bought yesterday by Liberty Global, you may get new ToS conditions? Not sure if they will keep their Fair Usage policy, make it worse or scrap it all together.

Would be interested to know what they are planning on doing.

Just wanted to point out the problem with consumer cable and DSL services and these so called ‘unlimited’ services.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but pretty much all home cable and DSL services use contention ratios. I.e your 30 meg service is actually shared between a bunch of other people. Could be up to 50 others (used to be anyway). So if someone out of those 50 is continuously maxing out their bandwidth, then this is going to effect the quality of the service for those unlucky people stuck in the same group as the big downloader.

Streaming TV should not max out your limit. It’s typically only a few mbits/s and obviously spread over time. Unless you have a whole house full of people all streaming TV it’s not going to be a problem. Then again a whole house full of people all streaming and maxing out the bandwidth isn’t going to be good for those other users in the same contention ration as said house.

C Chapman says:
7 February 2013

Will Virgin ASDL customers whose service is delivered via the BT infrastructure also benefit from this?

No – the service provider (in your instance, Virgin) controls traffic management.

You may not be aware but Plusnet is now offering unlimited packages for the very reasons that you stated in your post. Current customers can move to the new packages.

Alk, which post are you referring to? I am on Plusnet and am interested in Unlimited. Thank you.

So Plusnet Unlimited is still traffic managed? They say they aren’t “deliberately slowing down particular applications” but if the application you happen to be using is one of those that is running at the lower priority then either it IS effectively running slower or the management process would seem to be a bit of a waste of effort. The example Plusnet give is that “NASA videos will take a few more minutes to download”, surely that IS slower! I wonder if BT have the same rules?

I think they are trying to distinguish themselves from other ISPs in that they do not rate limit (throttle) the speed of particular types of traffic with the Unlimited package (you will see from their “download speeds” page that all applications on the unlimited package run at line speed). Instead, prioritising particular traffic on their network (I imagine it is some implementation of Quality of Service).
As regards BT, they have a page here: http://bt.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/10495/~/broadband-usage-policy
Compare that to Plusnet’s: https://www.plus.net/support/broadband/speed_guide/broadband_experience.shtml
Note the entry on Section 2 relating to ***.
Plusnet’s says: “*** If no entry is shown against a particular traffic type, no traffic management is typically applied to it.”
BT’s says: “***If no entry is shown against a particular traffic type, no traffic management is typically applied to it, though overall network management rules shall apply.”

No info on BT’s page as to what the “overall network management rules” are, but perhaps there is something in that.

According to that page the ONLY traffic management that BT currently apply on their NON-unlimited products is P2P. I find that surprising.

Also, on this page:
BT define an ‘unlimited’ usage allowance as “This means that you can use the internet as much as you want and will never be charged for additional usage.” Charged? Being charged isn’t usually the problem, being ‘managed’ or otherwise slowed down is the problem.

jadw59 says:
8 February 2013

Personally, I would be delighted if I got any sort of service from Virgin which approaches the limits. Where I live in North London, I and, apparently many others, have the experience that rates fall below 1Mb in the evening so watching video online is impossible. In addition, catch-up TV and Netflix are also affected. This has been going on for months. Virgin have undertaken to fix it by 6 March which is not that far off – but I’ll believe it when I see it

What package are you on? I’m in N17 and on the 30meg service. I’m part of the Sam Knows/ Ofcom speed survey so have a special box that runs tests during the 24 hour period. A year ago I was getting pretty much the advertised speed at the time, but these days it’s more like 25 at most. Plus domain name resolving time is up which is a different issue.

There are days when it seems to grind to a halt, but unplugging the modem, waiting then restarting always gets it going again (unless there are other issues).

With all the upgrades they are doing (part of the speed doubling) hopefully we should see extra capacity return, but upgrades for my area are already a year behind.

I have just finished a telephone call to BT Customer Service (India) lasting nearly an hour. As a result of this call I have been offered unlimited broadband downloads and a very slight reduction in broadband rental. After that call I opened my e mails and one from you told me – guess what, about BT!!! That was good of them, giving me something that everyone was to get anyway!!!

Andrew Johnson says:
9 February 2013

The other way of looking at this is that it means most customers end up paying extra for something they don’t need and never use. That’s why BT are so much more expensive than other providers like TalkTalk and Utility Warehouse. I think customers should be able to choose whether they want to pay extar for a truly unlimited service that they may never fully use, or save £100+ a year by choosing an alternative provider with a fair usage policy that will never affect them.

Brent Salisbury says:
10 February 2013

Kudos to British Telecom. Corporate responsibility is far and few between. NSPs and MNOs take profit, that is the result of free market, with archaic regulatory policy. They answer to shareholders not tax payers. If consumers leave it up to government entities, such as the FCC in the US do something we will lose any hope of adequate wireline services. The FCC chair is for data caps. They are corporate shills because they all land into cushy policy lobbyist jobs once their terms are up.

Until consumers engage in grass roots action we will continue to stifle economic development and innovation for future generations. It is really encouraging to see so many people around the world with a passion for improving lives through technology. The Internet is the umbilical cord of the future and it is up to us to spread awareness if we expect a change.


Yes , great idea to get rid of the fair usage policy. But this gives a licence for many people to constantly trash the internet and may make everything to slow or not respond. I know BT are upgrading but I’m still wondering if BT have the capacity for this now ?

One of the reasons I moved to Yoursuresave broadband last month (I posted here and won comment of the month 🙂 ) is that they gave me an unlimited data allowance and no traffic management whatsoever, which is perfect.

I also have The One Plan with Three mobile, and regularly use between 20GB and as much as 40GB each month. If the mobile networks can offer this I don’t see why land line broadband can’t.

It’s just stupid in this day and age, what with all the HD content we can watch, HD iPlayer, HD Netflix and HD youtube and it’s like the broadband providers are drip feeding our data allowance to us and charging us through the nose or restricting our service. I’m happy now anyway, but they all need to do away with data limits.

If customers streaming too much content is a problem for them then it is up to them to sort things out at their end, instead of making the paying customers suffer.