o2 thinband, unfair useage policy
June 9, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

My 'unlimited' broadband supplier (O2) has scolded me for exceeding its fair usage limit of 40GB. I see this as unfair. What would be the most effective way to complain?

Apologies if this question comes across as a tad vexatious.

Today I received an email from my broadband supplier stating that I was using 'significant amounts' of their network capacity. This is my second warning; the first was in January. I do not consider myself to be an excessive user of the internet.

When I received the original email, I thought it fair that I unsync my home computer from DropBox thinking that those 100MB files might possibly be to blame.

However, it seems that last month's downloading of XCode 4, a couple of HD movies from iTunes, and some Doctor Who on iPlayer (which I reckon they've been throttling) has once again upset the beast and prompted them to send me the second warning.

The thing is, I've been an O2 'unlimited' broadband for a couple of years and it's only in recent months that I've had these emails. I called them this afternoon and was told that my usage was over their 40GB threshold. Whilst I am not naive enough to really believe 'unlimited' actually means 'unlimited', 40GB seems stingily low. 'Unlimited' really does seem inappropriate (some would say, misleading).

From their Fair Usage Policy:

4.1 Unless you are a customer signing up or moving to our Access package after 14th July
2010, there is no limit on the monthly network usage. However if we feel that your activities
are so excessive that other customers are detrimentally affected, we may give you a written
warning (by email or otherwise). In extreme circumstances, if the levels of activity do not
immediately decrease after the warning, we may terminate or suspend your Services.

No mention of what 'excessive' might mean.

I expect that I'll have to change ISP but after two years of paying £22 a month, I think I should at least try and see how far my consumer rights get me.

So, hivemind, I want to complain and I want to be heard. I assume I can't be the only mefite to have received such a warning from O2. I've written letters of complaint to companies before but this issue irks me more than any and so I want it to be effective (for my sake and the sake of the other subscribers). What should my tactic be? How do I win at this game?

(I guess I won't be downloading OS X Lion any time soon!)

For reference, here's the email I received:

We hope that you are enjoying your home broadband experience with us. Unfortunately, it looks like you’ve been using significant amounts of our network capacity and it’s affecting the service that our other customers get.

We need your help to make sure that all of our customers get the most from their broadband service. Here are some of the things you can do:
Be Aware - Make sure you know what’s using up a lot of bandwidth.
Peer-to-peer software - like Bittorrent. As these programs download and upload files, you might be using more than you realise.
File sharing - some programs might run continually in the background. If you turn off the ‘auto start’ setting you can stop this.
BBC iPlayer - If you’re using the old version, switch to the new version – it uses less capacity
Ask around - Someone else in your house might be using it more than you realise. Ask everyone to use a bit less
Lower your download speed - Most file sharing programs let you set a maximum download speed, please set yours to low.
Download an application that will monitor usage – There are lots available to download for free and it might help you keep an eye on how much you are downloading
And the simplest solution is to download and upload less.

Taking some or all of these steps will make sure all our customers get the most from their broadband. We’d like to help you sort this out as things unfortunately can’t carry on like this. Sadly, unless you cut down by next month, we’ll not be able to offer you a home broadband service. It’s not something we want to do, but it’s the only way to make sure all our customers get the same quality service.

And if you’ve got any questions or need some help to cut down, please call us.

Felix Geyr

Head of O2 Home Broadband

This email is sent from Telefónica O2 UK Limited.
Registered Office:
260 Bath Road, Slough, Berkshire, SL1 4DX.
Registered number: 1743099.
posted by run"monty to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Stop giving them your money, and tell them why.

Despite the name, UKFSN is a great ISP for anyone and they're very open about their (generous) usage caps.
posted by Mwongozi at 11:16 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think my exchange is compatible. I'm a rural user.

Also, I expect O2 actually want rid of me as I don't fit into their new business plan. This only makes me stubborn.
posted by run"monty at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011

I'm with Be*There, who are somehow related to O2. They have no usage caps whatsoever. I seem to recall they kicked someone off the network for using 300G (three hundred gig) in a month, but such cases are obviously rare. I've downloaded at least 60 gig in a month for several months without anyone batting an eyelid.

Regarding complaining, try Ofcom. Or go to Moneysavingexpert.com and post on the Forums there. Martin Lewis is something of a champion for the underdog. Or you could call Watchdog, the TV show and see if they're interested.
posted by Solomon at 11:24 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

UKFSN don't require an "unbundled" exchange, anywhere that has ADSL, you can use UKFSN.
posted by Mwongozi at 11:26 AM on June 9, 2011

Does them sending you a message have any meaning? Ignore it and see what happens.

If you're up for it, you could also try and find out whether they can legally use such fuzzy terms as "in extreme circumstances" as conditions to terminate or suspend your Services.
posted by krilli at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2011

Another vote for moving to Be*There. I moved from Virgin because of the irritating traffic shaping, it is really uncapped.
posted by laukf at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2011

In other words: It's a bluff. Call it.
posted by krilli at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2011

Only 40gigs and they call that excessive?!?
I easily do that in 5 days.

I'd call up and ask how this amount of data is unreasonable considering what your usage is. I'd also threaten to switch service providers if that's possible.

What you are using if far from abnormal. On my phone alone I pass through over 7 gigs or so a month.
If they are advertising 'unlimited' then it should be unlimited (yes I know there is no such thing as unlimited as bandwidth is a finite resource)
posted by handbanana at 11:33 AM on June 9, 2011

If you do send a complaint, make sure you edit it ruthlessly so as to convey how reasonable you are. You might specifically address their concerns (esp. making sure your iPlayer is up to date) as best you can.

It's interesting that they claim that your usage is "affecting the service that [their] other customers get." In what way? How are they measuring this? I'd question whether there is any evidence at all to support such a claim. Are other users complaints about latency or other issues analyzed and you're the only cause? How many other users complained, anyway, or how has service degraded? How is this more attributable to your use of what they claim is "unlimited," rather than their failure to allocate appropriate bandwidth to support the allowable usage levels they advertise or promise?

For my money, it looks like they recently checked logs and sent email to customers whose use exceeded some arbitrary threshold that has nothing to do with actual impact on service. Check forums to see how many other customers received the same mail.
posted by Hylas at 11:33 AM on June 9, 2011

Another vote for moving to Be*There.

I tried to move to them back in January (after all, I'm technically with the already) but I was told: they did not provide services to my area, and, they were unable to take customers from O2 (this I had to drum out of the operator)!
posted by run"monty at 11:40 AM on June 9, 2011

40 gb is stingy. HD video from Netflix can use ~1.7 gb per hour, so if you're using that instead of TV, or you like watching movies, you can hit that 40gb threshold pretty fast with Netflix alone, and I imagine that other high quality streaming video services use similar amounts of bandwidth. HD video on YouTube can also eat bandwidth, too (for example, Lady Gaga's Judas video was over 200mb, running 5:35 at 1080p).

Unfortunately, you're at the mercy of O2, unless they have marketing or agreement language that states another bandwidth limit. You could try making a public spectacle, or you could try to find another carrier.

As for another carrier saying they can't take customers from O2, how would they know? Tell them you're moving into the place, and the former renters/owners had O2, if they some how know who was serving that residence.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:52 AM on June 9, 2011

You might want to reference that Ofcom takes the stance that "fair usage policies" for "unlimited" service is likely to mislead consumers. I also think this should be a violation of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

If your complaint to O2 does not resolve the matter, you can take it to Ombudsman Services, but I doubt this will help. You can also
complain to Ofcom. Ofcom won't routinely get involved in your individual complaint.
posted by grouse at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2011

If Be do not provide services in your area that means O2 are paying BT for your connection and you are on the O2 Access package listed here. I have not seen them describe this as unlimited.

If you are not on the Access package then Be services must be available in your area.
posted by Olli at 12:14 PM on June 9, 2011

If Be do not provide services in your area that means O2 are paying BT for your connection and you are on the O2 Access package listed here. I have not seen them describe this as unlimited.

If you are not on the Access package then Be services must be available in your area.

bethere.co.uk comes up as the second hop on traceroute so I thought my connection was through them.

However, I am on the Access package. At the time, this was described as unlimited. I signed up with O2 because of their unlimited offer. The only downside to the package at the time was the higher cost and the lower speed compared to O2's other unlimited packages.
posted by run"monty at 12:42 PM on June 9, 2011

Not knowing exactly where you are it is possible that you are interfering with other users services. In some rural areas of the UK ( and Ireland) bandwidth is quite limited by old technologies or limited copper wire. Hoping you resolve this to every ones satisfaction. Frank
Some one who lives part of the year in a very rural area of Ireland, at the end of the copper wires, with a personally laid cable to reach that wire.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:58 PM on June 9, 2011

If it was me, my response would be something like:

"I'm sorry to hear that my internet usage is affecting your network. What specific steps can I take to solve this problem?"

Let their answer guide the rest of your interaction.

Another tack to take might be (something like):

"Since I am only able to use 40gb a month anyway, please change my plan to the 14 GBP level."

If they let you change, at least you are saving some money. Because they in all likelyhood weren't going to let you get any more usage out of it anyway. If they say "oh, wait, no, hang on, no need to get hasty about it" then maybe you might be able to get them to leave you alone.
posted by gjc at 4:31 PM on June 9, 2011

I ran into this situation a bunch of years ago; got a phone call from them telling me that I was using too much bandwidth.

Difference was, they offered to upgrade me to "Ultra" (or something) for $20 more ($30-something to 50-something) and even though their webpage says 80gig limit (last I checked, years ago), I guess I made into their "extortion" bracket and they don't bug me about bandwidth useage anymore (regularly 200G+/month).

Ask if there's an even "more unlimited" plan?
posted by porpoise at 9:51 PM on June 9, 2011

"Since I am only able to use 40gb a month anyway, please change my plan to the 14 GBP level."

If they let you change, at least you are saving some money. Because they in all likelyhood weren't going to let you get any more usage out of it anyway. If they say "oh, wait, no, hang on, no need to get hasty about it" then maybe you might be able to get them to leave you alone.

There is no £14 plan for him. He is in an area not served by their network so the only plan they offer now costs £30 and has a 20 gig limit.

As they're paying BT Wholesale for his connection and BT charge for usage they're very unlikely to want to negotiate and would probably be happy to get rid of him. Customers on their own network are much more profitable.

Unfortunately all other ISPS available to him will also just be reselling BT so its not possible for any of them to be unlimited, whatever they claim.
posted by Olli at 12:17 AM on June 10, 2011

After some digging around, I found an old email from O2 explaining their introduction of a 40GB fair usage cap.

Looks like my selective ignorance beat me on this occasion.
posted by run"monty at 1:04 PM on June 11, 2011

You could give ADSL24 a shot. We were with them for several years, first on their BT Wholesale service (listed under "standard packages") and then on their Cable & Wireless LLU service. The only reason we are no longer with them is that we moved and the new flat already has a cable service we're going to try out first.

While the ADSL24 BT-based plan closest to your O2 plan in price has a 30gb/mo transfer limit, this only applies during peak times. After midnight and at weekends the plan is, in my experience, genuinely unlimited. It used to be that if you went over the 30gb limit they would charge you only the extra tenner for moving to the 60gb/mo plan, but that was a few years ago so it's worth checking into that.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:45 AM on June 12, 2011

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