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Fairy Tale: O2’s Nobbling Broadband Niggles & Narks Forgets to Mention Internet Overcharging Sharks

Phillip Dampier May 26, 2010 Data Caps, O2 (UK), Rural Broadband, Video 2 Comments

Pot?  Meet Kettle!

In one of the biggest ironies thus far this year, a British broadband provider trying to one-up the competition has started running ads with Dr. Seuss-like characters that represent marketing exaggerations, traps, and bad customer service, all while forgetting to disclose it engages in some tricks of its own.

O2’s Niggles & Narks campaign features animated creatures that represent where broadband has gone all-wrong:

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/O2 Niggles and Narks Ad 5-2010.flv[/flv]

Once upon a time, when broadband was made, we browsed and surfed and chatted — everybody played.

But for some, the magic faded.  Some things started to go wrong.

Without any warning, the niggles and nobs came along.

With the No Support-a-Saurus — spouting twaddle was his game.  His impossible instructions would slowly knot your brain.

The Crafty-Cost Nark took pleasure in his work, delivering line rental bills that drove us all berserk.

And with the Mystery-Speed Mook, you never really know. You thought you’d get mega-fast but got stuck with dead slow.

But this is where we draw the line and try to right what’s wrong.  Wouldn’t broadband be a better place, with narks and niggles gone?

But accusing the others of broadband narks and niggles -you- see, without confessing your own is little more than hypocrisy.

In a land of broadband O2 promises is not a dream, it brings to the table its own Internet Overcharging scheme.

No nobble or niggle could ever believe, selling unlimited broadband -that wasn’t- was something they could achieve.

But O2 managed — somehow, we don’t know, to define “unlimited” as 10GB per month — exceeding it brings woe.

Maybe it's a typo that should have read, "download as much as WE like."

O2 sells its broadband packages across the United Kingdom, either bundled under a BTWholesale-based package or unbundled direct from O2 or BeBroadband.  Only the BTWholesale accounts, common in rural areas where O2 doesn’t have its own equipment installed in the exchange offices, are impacted by the limit on unlimited.  BT apparently charges them some form of consumption billing, and they aren’t willing to eat the costs.

Starting in March, many customers started receiving letters stating they were using the service too much, and if they didn’t back off, they’d be disconnected.  One customer received a disconnect warning after using 40.1GB, primarily from watching BBC’s iPlayer, which delivers on demand television programming.

What represented “too much” for an “unlimited service?”

“Most O2 customers use less than 10GB a month. Aim for that and you’ll be okay,” says one of O2’s support pages on the topic.

Outraged consumers arguing that “unlimited” should mean “unlimited” and didn’t comply were promptly disconnected.

With the introduction of O2’s new high-priced Niggles & Narks advertising campaign, the hilarity ensued as customers began calling out O2’s hypocrisy, leading to clarifications from O2 that were anything but:

As some of you have been discussing, we’ve started to disconnect some of the very highest usage customers whose download patterns have detrimentally affected other customers’ experience, even after we have requested them to reduce their usage and explained the effect it’s having. We will continue this in order to improve the experience for the majority of the customers on the service.

We are also making the service run more efficiently by updating the hardware and software that runs the Access service. This will improve the prioritization of the real-time activity, such as streaming, over less time-sensitive activities such as P2P. — O2 Statement from March 26th 2010

O2's "Unlimited Broadband" Price Chart

Then there is this fine print on the question of “unlimited service” that only a credit card company or bank could love (the underlining is ours):

How much should I cut my broadband use?

Most O2 customers use less than 10GB a month. Aim for that and you’ll be okay.

Your product is unlimited, so why are you telling me to use less?

There aren’t any usage limits on any of our O2 Home Broadband packages. That means you can download and upload as much as you like each month, within reason.

Our network’s been designed to cope with people downloading large files (like music or films) and watching video online. But if you’re using the service excessively – like continually downloading large files at peak times – then we do reserve the right to warn you to lower your usage. In exceptional circumstances, we can even terminate your account.

This is because excessive use by a few people can reduce the speed that other customers in the same area can get. We just want to provide everyone with an excellent level of service.

Then company officials unofficially increased the limit to 40GB per month, as this note on an official company forum disclosed:

We’re contacting less than 10% of our heaviest users at the moment and you fell into this top tier. The majority use less than 10GB and at present if you use less than 40GB, you wouldn’t hear from us.”

This isn’t the first time O2 has confused its customers.  ThinkBroadband reminds us of 2007’s mess over the same issue:

O2 have never been good at defining the term ‘unlimited’ as can be seen in 2007 when they had three different definitions for the word. Back then they did recognize that customers were confused by the term and the marketing director Sally Cowdry was quoted as saying “customer feedback has been that if we say unlimited, it should be unlimited.” We wonder why two and half years on, O2 still have not ‘nobbled this broadband niggle.’

Unfortunately for O2 customers, the company has not righted any broadband wrongs.  They’ve added to them.  O2 has an chronic problem with their own Niggles and Narks.  Perhaps British regulators can do a better job exterminating them.

Currently there are 2 comments on this Article:

  1. Adrian Carpenter says:

    I too have received one of their phone calls, reduce or get cut off, so I decided to take a close look at my usage. Well its interesting, most of the time there is about 10kbytes/s background hum from e-mail, web etc. Sometimes spikes of 100kbytes/s when YouTube or iPlayer are being used. No one in the household is using p2p, so the background 10kbytes/s on average must be reasonable. But here’s the rub, mutliply this average by 24/7 for a month and you hit the magic number. Given I never get anything better than 100kbytes/s down load speed, I felt their phone call needed clarification. So I sent their support e-mail my traffic logs, only to get the reply that they couldn’t see them because they aren’t allowed to open attachments and hence couldn’t comment! Its time OFCOM investigated O2!

    • I’ll say, and for our American readers, OFCOM is sort of like a combination of the Federal Communications Commissions and the Federal Trade Commission. It regulates communications industries -and- their marketing practices.

      O2 appears to be engaged in deceptive advertising practices because “unlimited” is not defined in my dictionary as “10GB” (or 40GB for that matter.)

      The reason these packages are so important to customers is that outside of the United States, providers who engage in Internet Overcharging schemes limit usage, use “fair access policies” that throttle speeds, or heavily curtail certain Internet applications (peer to peer BitTorrent traffic being their favorite). An unlimited package is supposed to protect customers from usage limits that, once reached, either slow the customer to dial-up speeds or start charging penalty rates.

      O2 calls its customers up and threatens to cancel their service.

      I am assuming you are one on O2’s customers getting service through BT on a rural ADSL line, which is why they are limiting you and why your speed is pretty low.

      Here in the States, we’re familiar with slow speed DSL lines as well, as rural customers here are subjected to 1-3Mbps ADSL service, if they can get it at all.

      I have also run into companies that cannot open file attachments. Sometimes you can fax them the material, other times I’ve resorted to setting up private web pages they can visit to see the material. Either way, it sounds like they’re not exactly in a rush to help you.

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