The Truth about Broadband Fair Use Policies

Updated October 6, 2023

If asked most people probably wouldn’t know how much data they consume each month via their broadband connection. Why would you want to know something so dull? Well, perhaps that’s a fair point, but in this globally connected world data is money and if you use too much of it you might end up paying dearly.

Broadband FUP

Put simply, heavy data users cost broadband providers money and potentially cause congestion on the network. To counter this ISPs like to throttle them, the broadband connection that is, not the customer, but the point is, they take it pretty seriously, although some like to dress it up and call it “traffic management”.

Fair use policies (FUPs) are traffic management’s most popular, some would say stone-aged, oxymoronic weapon of choice. The premise is simple, exceed the data limits (if any exist) on your broadband account and face having your connection slowed to a slight jog, crawl or near-halt.

Not really that fair if you’ve signed up for “unlimited” broadband.

Sadly for liberal tech-nuts like me who perceive any kind of potential throttling a smear on my broadband liberty most providers employ some sort of FUP, or charge large sums for extra data usage to keep their renegade downloaders in check.

If this sort of thing makes you shiver in the night then the first rule when looking to switch broadband is to remain suspicious of any package mentioning the word “unlimited” unless, that is, it states: “we do not have a fair use policy on broadband” or “fair use policy free zone” or “serious FUPing allergy”… you get the idea

Thankfully there are some shining knights out there in the broadband realm.

In the UK, one provider recently adding themselves to the ranks by moving to a truly unlimited broadband service is Orange Broadband.

For many years Orange ran a shoddy broadband shop but these days it has got itself back into shape, with a few helping hands along the way and some of the most impressive policy U-turns this side of Downing Street.

Where before Orange ran a regime described as “unfair” for the way it “warns users [of unlimited broadband] who consistently download large amounts – 40+ GB per month – whether they download outside peak hours or not”, it now proudly proclaims: “when you’re an Orange Home broadband customer, we do not limit the amount of broadband you use.” Good for them.

Be Broadband are another UK provider that don’t enforce any limits on the amount of data you can download and upload. Be have long had a reputation for this, in fact at one time the company was even called, Be Unlimited.

There is another side to this coin too of course. Virgin Media, who often rail against other providers for using the term “unlimited” too loosely, employ one of the most draconian traffic management FUPs.

Although they advertise their broadband as “unlimited” users of all but Virgin Media’s most expensive broadband connections face having their connection speed slashed by 75% if they exceed daily limits for downloading and uploading data.

A user of their “Size L” package for example may feel the long beard of the law after using just 3GB of data between 10am and 3pm. To put this into perspective, one hour of HD iPlayer may use that up in 1-2 hours viewing.

So fair use policies can be tricky to the untrained eye, but remember to look out for the little star or cross hanging up near the end of the big shiny “unlimited” in the next broadband ad you see. Find and read the FUP and see whether you think fair’s fair or whether the broadband provider is putting the FUP in FUPing ridiculous.

Author Bio:- Neil Hawkins is contributing editor and broadband deals expert for consumer site Choose. He also wrote their fair use policy guide.

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