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uSwitch, the online site that promises “impartial” price comparisons on a wide range of products and services, recently conducted a study that found a wide ranging disparity between what Broadband customers think they their monthly data usage allowance is and what their ISP actually allows.This wasn’t much of a problem before, but now that consumers, according to the study, are spending on average two hours a week using the internet to watch films, TV or play games, it’s becoming much easier to reach one’s monthly allotment.With online entertainment silently eating into broadband usage limits, more than eight million consumers (48%) have no idea what their monthly allotment is, placing them at risk of having their service limited, suspended or even terminated by their ISP. Worse still, another seven million wrongly believe heir service is “unlimited,” when in fact their usage will be monitored and limited if deemed “excessive” by their ISP.Other than Sky, which claims that there really is no limit to its Sky Broadband Unlimited package, most ISPs advertising “Unlimited” broadband cover themselves by a “Fair Usage Policy.” While differing from provider to provider, the policy generally states that the company has the right to limit a customer”s broadband service when usage is “excessive.” However, few companies actually define the term “excessive,” making it virtually impossible for a customer to know the exact point they will go over the limit.Fair Usage Policies fail to specify the limit at which customers will be cut off. And, once a customer reaches the limit deemed “excessive”, they may find that their speed is slowed down. Having received a verbal or written warning, those continuing to “over use” their broadband may be charged an excess fee, or at worst, be cut off.So how do UK ISPs classify “unlimited” broadband?BT – “very heavy users will experience significantly reduced speed at peak times (typically 5pm-midnight every day)Orange – “we may either have to reduce the transmission speed of your broadband while we continue to keep an eye on your usage, or suspend your service and/or possibly close your account.”O2 – “you must not use the Services for making excessive use of, or placing unusual burdens on, the network, for example by sending or receiving large volumes of email or excessively large email.TalkTalk – if Customers usage is continually either excessive….or is not consistent with the usage we would typically expect … in extreme cases, suspend or terminate their ability to access TalkTalk broadband.”Virgin Media – ‘In isolated cases where excessive network usage at busy times (9am to 9pm) is having a detrimental effect on other users, we may need to take appropriate action in accordance with the terms of this AUP to notify users of the impact they are having and require them to move some of their activity into the less busy period. Editorial note - I find the timings mentioned, 9am to 9pm, very strange as they actually throttle between 4pm and 10pm.According to uSwitch, two million customers have been warned for approaching their download limit, and 350,000 (2%)have been penalized for exceeding it.“It seems ludicrous that Unlimited Broadband does not mean what is says on the tin,” says Matt Wheeler, communications expert at uSwitch. “The term Unlimited should be banned on broadband adverts unless, like Sky, the service really has no limits.”An Xvid version copy of an hour long TV show will use up around 350Mb, while a two hour movie of the same type will use up around 900Mb. And that’s not counting HD versions.With video content in particular eating up so much of a person’s monthly allotment, it’s incumbent upon ISPs to spell out for customers exactly what their limits are.