Is Limited Unlimited Service False Advertising?

from the define-unlimited dept

Just last month, we wrote about people getting kicked off Verizon Wireless' high speed EVDO network for using the "unlimited" network too much -- raising the question of how you could use too much of something that was being advertised as unlimited? Glenn Fleishmann, as per usual, has done a nice job looking into the limited unlimited plans offered by the big three mobile operators -- though, Sprint's terms and services are apparently not readily available. Still, the big issue isn't really being discussed: isn't having your marketing team proudly selling "unlimited" service, while your lawyers limit it very much in the extremely fine print, a clear-cut case of false advertising? The operators and their supporters say they need to limit use to protect the network. That may be absolutely true -- but, if that's the case, then they shouldn't advertise it as unlimited. If they can't actually deliver unlimited service, they shouldn't be selling it.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    discojohnson, 30 Nov 2005 @ 6:17pm


    i think it's worth noting that there are many of us that don't have unlimited phone usage on the nights/weekends like once advertised. instead i have 5000 minutes (also a rediculously high number [to me]) as a cingular customer. i also didn't sign a contract advertised as unlimited. those companies that advertise unlimited but limit and hide behind "fair use" should use rediculous numbers to put a tangible limit so the customers at least know how much the said company feels is fair. when it comes to things like mostly free data streams, i find that fair is actually quite that--fair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    MissingFrame, 30 Nov 2005 @ 6:53pm

    It's like "Lite" ....

    Remember the food companies recently got taken to task for labelling something "Lite" even though it was not? Unfortunately, most advertising is false. The term "Unlimited" isn't the only one being bantered about with reckless abandon, and that's why we call it advertising.

    BTW, I just went through the same disappointments with Real Networks' "Unlimited" Rhapsody service, which manages to have quite a few limitations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    discojohnson, 30 Nov 2005 @ 7:05pm

    Re: It's like

    I know this is off-topic, but the meaning of each term is defined by the government (I just had a WIC appointment where they talked about it). The quickest I found on google is this food label nutrient content claim page

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2005 @ 7:41pm

    No Subject Given

    in 1997, before DSL/CABLE was available in my area, I was stuck with dial-up access only. I used dial-up to connect to the news groups (NNTP) through a local provider which offered "Unlimited Internet Usage" as their premium package. At the time, most dial-up ISP companies limited you to 80, 100 or even 200 hours a month. Well since I would download the news nightly and then scan through it during the days, much of the connection time was spent downloading through 56k modem. After being a member with this ISP for 7 months now, they disconnected my account stating that I had "over-used the Unlimited Internet Usage privileges by using more than the allowed 400 hours per month". After searching through their website and Usage Agreements, there were no mentions of what exactly was meant by "Unlimited Internet Usage".

    I guess like the article above states, there are limits to things being advertised as unlimited.

    About the time that the company started playing these games is when Pacbell began offering DSL to my area. I had them install to my home within that month and have been a happy DSL subscriber with them ever since.

    Doing a quick search on the previous ISP, it seems as though "The Loop" ( somewhere down the line got bought up by Earthlink - either this, or the company was going out of business and sold all it's customers to Earthlink... either way, doesn't matter now, since I am happy with where I arrived to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Nat, 30 Nov 2005 @ 8:22pm


    Back in the dial-up days I'd get notifications from MSN when I used too much of their unlimited service. They were even nice enough to let me know that I was in the top 10 percent of users online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    TechNoFear (profile), 30 Nov 2005 @ 9:02pm


    Primus Australia advertised "unlimited broadband" for "$5.95", with "$0 set-up fees".

    Except of course this was until you downloaded 500Mb, then your connection was slowed to 64Kb.

    The price was per week not per month.

    You had to sign up other services for 12 months, 24 to get the free install.....

    Seems it was only the conditions that were 'Unlimited'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    LoneWolf, 30 Nov 2005 @ 9:52pm


    It is definaltey false advertising I don't approve of. Unlike many consumers I am very aware of AUP's and Terms and Service Policies since I do lots of webhosting where the term "unlimited" gets tossed around every which way so reading terms of service is now habit when looking at any service for a company. However, I have looked through broadband service terms and found they are VERY vague. Lucky for me I havn't been contacted by my cable co for overusage considering I transfer nearly 100GB a week due to the nature of my business. I'm assuming it'll only be a matter of time before I get a phone call or nasty letter in the mail.

    I much rather be given a limit than have this gray area and have a fear that if I reach this unknown destination I'll be kicked off from my service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Mike Ivey, 30 Nov 2005 @ 10:35pm

    The Unlimited Game

    This has been going on as long as I can remember, even pre-internet. Back when I had Prodigy Classic (actually named Prodigy Classic retrospectively when the internet arrived), I had my account suspended numerous times for using too much of my unlimited time (which probably amounted to a good 8 hours a night between chat, message boards, games, etc. totalling about 240 hours a month). They said a reasonable amount of time was like 100 hours and I had used more than double a reasonable amount. When I responded that it said the time was unlimited (a term which us laypersons know to be synonymous with infinity), I was told to keep my usage within reasonable limits but even reviewing their AUP and other policies, nothing ever put a hard figure on "unlimited". It is clear-cut false advertising. If you can't afford to give people "unlimited usage", don't advertise unlimited.
    Recently people have been disconnected from cable/dsl ISPs for exceeding 200 gigabyte usage on their unlimited cable service. At 5MBps, 200 gigabytes is less than 4 days of continuous transfer. ISPs want to advertise unlimited access to all this high quality content, then turn around and limit your access to them. I can blow a gigabyte of transfer in a few hours just by downloading a linux distro and playing some games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Joe T, 1 Dec 2005 @ 7:52am

    Re: agree

    If you have nights @ weekends starting at 7pm and ending at 7pm (not terribly likely these days as it is usually 9pm to 7am), then there are only 6480 minutes covering that period:
    Sunday & Saturday: 48h
    Mon-Fri, 12a-7a, 7p-12p: 12h * 5d = 60h
    60h+48h = 108h. 108h * 60m = 6480m.
    So, you are missing 1480 minutes per week, or exactly 24h.
    Do you sleep more than 24h a week? That's a little less than 3.5h per night.
    I don't see this as a an issue. If you spend every waking moment of every week on the phone and sleep less than 3.5 hours per day, then you have a legitimate beef.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2005 @ 9:55am

    Re: agree

    you completely missed the point. The point is if it says unlimited it should be unlimited. Its the principle of it - its false advertising

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Myself, 1 Dec 2005 @ 10:41am

    So where are the lawyers?

    I've been pretty happy with Nextel's unlimited data service. I beat the crap out of it (upwards of a gig a month sometimes) and they've never said boo. I've avoided switching to Verizon, even though it'd be 10x faster for less than 2x the money, because I know their unlimited service is really quite limited.

    In order to bring suit against them, would I need to sign on, ignore the fine print, then claim the big "unlimited" was false? In other words, would I need to be harmed in some way to make a claim?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Ian, 28 Aug 2006 @ 1:22pm


    So today ill call earthlink beacause i see the advertisement that you can have broad band dsl for as low as 12.95 a month for the first 6 months
    i know i have dile up so i figure "12.95, that cant be much more then im paying right now right" so i call
    i know it says "AS LOW AS" but i thought it would be at least in that ball park right? WRONG!! the guy quotes me 34.95. Now thats what i call false advertizing!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    ethana2, 13 May 2007 @ 3:12pm

    I know this thread is nearly dead, but let's do something about this. email me if you want to help. Once we get enough people together, we can contact the eff and start a nonprofit ISP that can't be competed with by anything but lack of knowledge. Like Ubuntu Linux vs Windows. Maybe even create an open ISP project to start many of them across the world with the same general properties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Steve Enderle, 8 Feb 2010 @ 2:56pm

    Unlimited limit

    Yes, I was suckered in by salesman saying I had Unlimited access no matter what. I agreed to that and signed up for 2 year locked in. However as soon as I passed 4 gig (in a couple days) I was dropped to 23 kph/sec or dialup...So I just stay hooked up 24/7 until those files I want are done regardless...out of spite, till they reset me at the first of the month again. I've called them on it and they even agreed with me...false advertising!!! I wish to sue for 50 million to send a message that if you cannot deliver don't sell it! Whats really strange is I will have downloaded over 30-40 gigs while hooked 24/7 and takes a lot longer but if I was allowed the higher speed then I wouldn't be hooked up 24/7 ??? Either way I get the data but verison tries to scew me out of a quick download...oh well If I could I'd hook 1000 machines up 24/7 just to bog thier system and hope others do too...lieing punks!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.