In Ireland, the mobile phone companies sell their packages which include ‘unlimited’ data bundles or ‘all you can eat data.’ Virgin media and three are doing the unlimited data plans in Ireland. When they put the advertisement on their websites, it is not mentioned in the advertisement box that customer could face restriction of service or to be charged for exceeding ‘fair usage policy.’ All you can see is some catchy and flashy advertisement, which focuses only on attracting the customer. Mobile phone companies are misleading the customers by giving unlimited data ads, solely for the purpose of attracting the customers.
A three mobile all you can eat data plan. Credit: three.ie
Fair usage policy is a policy which restricts the customer to use the excess amount of data which the customer is entitled to use in an unlimited plan. According to the Virgin Media Ireland, “Virgin Media Mobile Services are subject to a Fair Use Policy. Fair Usage Policy applies to usage exceeding 10,000 Voice call minutes or 10,000 Text messages or 30 Gigabytes of Data in any monthly bill cycle. If you exceed these allowances as determined by Virgin Media, in our sole judgment, Virgin Media may take any of the following actions, or any combination thereof:
– Limit the speed of your data connection
– Suspend your access to the Virgin Media Mobile Service and/or
– Terminate your account for non-compliance with the provisions of this Usage Policy in accordance with the provisions of Virgin Media’s General Terms and Conditions.”
And according to the three-mobile company on their ‘all you can eat data’ plan, “Where your data usage exceeds 60GB in a billing cycle and affects other users, we reserve the right to limit your service.”
Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) describes it as :
A number of telephone and broadband packages being offered are described as ‘unlimited’. In this context, the word ‘unlimited’ would normally be taken to mean that a subscriber, having agreed to pay a set price, may make as many calls, or spend as much time online as he or she wishes. However, some service contracts qualify the meaning of ‘unlimited’ by stating that it is subject to an ‘acceptable’ or ‘fair’ level of use by the subscriber. This is referred to as a “fair usage policy” in some advertising.
Barry from Cormeg, when contacted for his point of view, he said, “we were unable to comment on this issue as this is not in our domain, ASAI (advertisement standard authority Ireland) is the relevant body to comment on that.” *Cormeg is also responsible for the protection of consumer rights.
In 2014/15 in the UK, three mobile company use to do a data plan for its customers which states,” 15£ for all you can eat data.” The phone company does not do that anymore in the UK as now the data limit is defined in the advertisement box. The advertisements mentioned, that a customer has to pay 27£ for the use of 100GB data, which is fair enough as the customer knows about their limits.
I asked Marie from three mobile press department, about why the advertisement says unlimited when company have a fair usage policy of 60GB in place, it’s not unlimited then, she responded, “ its an industry standard, these are guidelines from ASAI and we comply with them”, so I asked her again if its fine to use ‘unlimited’ word with their data package, she said, “ it’s an industry standard”.
Is that standard ok? it does not matter how big the data three is providing but it is still not unlimited as promised.
Virgin media Ireland press department official responded to this query, “ its under fair usage policy and all the companies do that, unlimited is just the name of the plan, there are no specific reasons for that, its just the name of the plan,30GB is enough data”, when I asked that, is it fine to use the term ‘unlimited?’ , she said, “ yes I think it would be fine”.
30GB is a decent amount of data but it is not a large amount, the problem these days is that people data usage has gone up because of the social media. So sometimes 30GB might seem small. The unfairness is that a customer is paying money for an unlimited plan but not getting the package that was promised when buying the contract. The ads say that there is an unlimited amount of data for this plan, but unfortunately, there is not!
People with limited data amount, when exceeds their agreed limit, they have to pay a ridiculous amount per GB, for three mobile, if you do not have a data add-on, then using mobile internet costs €2 per day for any daily usage up to 200MB. After you use 200MB you will be charged at €1 per MB, a 500MB bundle for €4.99, and 1GB bundle for €9.99. For virgin media, it would be 1 euro per 100 MB, which means 10euros per GB.
So, people turned to unlimited internet plans, but companies introduced fair usage policies, so in literal sense unlimited plans became limited, if a customer is about to reach fair usage policy of 30GB, the phone company most of the time will not warn the customer because they know that now is the time to earn big money.
Anna Heryan, an assistant legal advisor from European Consumer Centre in Ireland (ECC Ireland) replied to my email, “In relation to your request, I am afraid we are not in a position to comment on advertising content or services offered by telephone providers in Ireland. You can consider contacting the Commission for Communication Regulation or the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland in case any orientation or information can be offered.”
ASAI looks after the advertisement standards in Ireland. When I asked them about the use of ‘unlimited’ in data plans, Seóna Parker, Code and Copy Advice Manager responded via email, “In regards to the use of ‘Unlimited’ by Irish operators, our Complaints Committee have adjudicated on this matter and they have allowed operators use the term ‘Unlimited’ when a fair usage policy is in place when 99% of customers on the plan are not affected by the fair usage policy and this is an area that our Complaints Committee keep under review.”
ASAI needs to look at these guidelines again. Companies mention things on their terms and conditions, but it does not mean that all the terms and conditions are worthy of acceptance. The ASAI seems to be a bit lazy on this issue. How can an authority allow companies to dictate them and take the money out of people’s pocket? The corporate giants are enjoying the leniency given to them by the advertisement authority.