Aussie broadband: How unlimited is 'unlimited'?

We take a look at the fine print for some ISPs' 'unlimited' broadband deals

Australia's broadband fanatics must be licking their lips as the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs) increasingly embrace unlimited ADSL2+ plans. Hardcore downloaders have now been given the license to run amok and “download the whole Internetz” as one user delicately described it on the popular Internet discussion forum Whirlpool.

But how genuine are these “unlimited” deals? The word has been thrown around frequently by ISPs. Sometimes it's only "unlimited" downloads until you reach a cap limit or "unlimited" use during off-peak times; however, there are plans that appear to genuinely allow users to download as much as they want (provided they abide by the ISPs acceptable use policy).

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), which handles consumer complaints about ISPs, has highlighted concerns about unlimited plans for the consumer. According to the TIO's Marketing of telecommunications services page, “"it is best practice for products to be marketed as unlimited or free when they are in fact unlimited or free in the everyday sense of those words. Companies may confuse consumers if they use these terms in another sense, either directly or indirectly - such as through qualifying contractual terms and conditions.”

The page notes: “The TIO receives complaints from consumers who claim to have purchased a telecommunications service marketed as having unlimited usage, only to find that usage was in fact restricted by an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).”

Below we've taken a look at some ISPs' "unlimited" plans.

AAPT

Back in February, AAPT became the first ISP in Australia to offer unlimited ADSL2+ broadband plans without any download quotas.

For $99.95, AAPT’s ‘24/7 Unlimited Broadband Bundle’ includes line rental and a free wireless modem on a 24 month contract, which is a great deal. Users also get $50 included value from AAPT’s music store to download music. AAPT confirmed that users could download as much as they pleased. Whirlpool user ‘discord’ commented, “As for people getting bored with downloading, 3.6TB on the AAPT 24/7 unlimited plan (with another 2 or so TB on the 8pm-8am unlimited plan) and rising.” The plan is available for most users Australia-wide but there is no naked option.

An AAPT spokesperson said that the AAPT network was more than adequate to cope with large numbers of users downloading: “No, it won’t slow down the service because AAPT has its own national network infrastructure which easily has the capacity to handle all users — so regular ADSL customers won’t be affected at all by the 24/7 Unlimited Broadband product.”

TPG

On paper, TPG is offering the best unlimited ADSL2+ broadband plan. For $75 per month, the ISP is offering unlimited downloads, no shaping speeds and no hidden costs. However, the plan is currently only available to eligible customers in Sydney. Telephone line rental is not included, but TPG is offering $1 rental plus a minimum $10 call spend, so this still works out cheaper than AAPT if you rarely make calls. Contracts are available for 12 months (with $59.95 setup fee) and 18 months (no setup fee) so there’s less commitment than with AAPT. A TPG spokesperson indicated to us that users were free to download as much as they wanted, provided that they were abiding by the law. The spokesperson said that speeds experienced by customers would not be adversely affected by others who are downloading large amounts of data. Users that are taking advantage of the unlimited download quota are expressing their delight: “Ohh TPG I <3 you !!! I’m at 300 GB and I still got 24 days left for this month,” said Whirlpool user ‘dj_pain’.

Internode

Internode’s sole ‘unlimited’ plan, the ‘Home Standard Unlimited’, costs users $159.95 per month on the standard ADSL network. Users are limited to slow speeds (compared to ADSL2+ which most ISPs are offering) of 1.5 megabits per second when downloading and 256 kilobits per second when uploading. However there are no off-peak/on-peak times for this plan, no shaping speeds and no guidelines on excessive use.

Internode’s managing director, Simon Hackett, says that the network is more than prepared for users that take advantage of unlimited downloading. “There is no detrimental impact on other users; we run a network that has headroom pretty much 24/7 and we proactively upgrade ahead of demand,” he said. “When we sell an unlimited plan, it’s an unlimited plan. No shaping, no download limits. We don't make that statement lightly. We appreciate others may play fast and loose with the word, but we do not,” Hackett said.

Optus

Optus has joined in on the ‘unlimited’ broadband fun but unlike TPG and AAPT, it is not offering a plan with unlimited, unshaped downloads 24/7. The telco is offering two "unlimited" plans, which do technically allow unlimited downloads, but will be shaped down to 256Kbps after 100GB or 200GB of data is downloaded, for $109.99 or $139.99 per month respectively. Both of the plans are on two-year contracts with a $249 connection fee. Optus is also offering ‘Fusion’ bundle plans but the same shaping speeds apply once the quota has been reached. At least there are no further data charges once the quota has been reached by the user.

Dodo

Dodo is another ISP that has embraced the ‘unlimited’ moniker, but its $89.90 Unlimited Data plan is not genuinely unlimited. It is offering downloads up to 50GB at full-speed but once this has been reached, shaping kicks in at 256Kbps but without extra data charges.

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Kevin Cheng

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