Signed up for an unlimited broadband package? Worried that there’s a ‘fair usage’ cap hidden away somewhere in the small print? Worry not - we at broadbandchoices have trawled through your contract to find out once and for all.
Luckily, most unlimited packages these days are truly unlimited - or at least, they're as unlimited as they say on the tin. Secret usage caps aren't very common any more. However, there are still a few terms to be on the lookout for that could affect how you can use your broadband. Think traffic management, acceptable use policies, and more.
So here's our guide to the basics of fair usage - but for the full details, always have a read over of your broadband contract, as this kind of info is often subject to change.
Fair usage may be wonderfully absent, but most broadband providers do have an acceptable use policy. This is less to do with how much broadband you use, and more to do with how you're using it.
By agreeing to your contract, and therefore the acceptable use policy, you agree to use your connection reasonably - basically by not using it for anything illegal or otherwise dodgy. Some also state that you mustn't use it beyond what can be "reasonably expected of someone using the service for domestic purposes" - meaning that they'll investigate if you're downloading or uploading a ridiculously high level of data. So long as you're using your connection as a normal, domestic household, there's very little to worry about here (even if you're a heavy user).
For more info, take a look at our guide to small print on your broadband contract.
Broadband providers' fair usage policies
BT fair usage
BT's policies are prettyfairwhen it comes to usage. Unlimited packages are truly unlimited with no upper limit at all, and there's absolutely no traffic management. Sweet.
EE fair usage
Unlimited broadband from EE is indeed unlimited too, and for most packages it doesn't manage web traffic. The exception here is for its 'off-net' services, for which itdoesmanage traffic. At peak time - 4.30pm-1am on weekdays, 1.30pm-1am on weekends - it slows down things like peer-to-peer downloading, newsgroups, streaming, and downloading big files.
Hyperoptic fair usage
Like most other providers, when Hyperoptic says 'unlimited', it means unlimited. But there's some sneaky wording in the contract. It says you'll get a written warning if your broadband use is "so excessive that our other customers are being detrimentally affected" - which could turn into a suspension or termination of your services if it continues.
Given the high capacities Hyperoptic allows, it's probably unlikely you'll get into trouble. Still, it's worth looking out for.
As for traffic management, Hyperoptic doesn't have a traffic management policy, but it reserves the right to implement one. The only kind of traffic it does shape is VoIP (voice over IP) - since its phone lines work over the same fibre optic cables as its broadband, phone calls are always prioritised.
Plusnet fair usage
Plusnet's unlimited packages don't have any usage cap at all, either - they really are unlimited - but it does manage web traffic.
It gives absolute priority to VoIP (such as Skype) and gaming; medium priority to browsing, email, video and audio streaming, FTP, and download servers; and low priority to peer-to-peer downloads and software updates. Customers on business packages get higher priority for external FTP and software updates.
This all comes into play whenever there's high network traffic, and at peak times - no exact peak hours are stated, but seems to be in the evenings and at weekends.
Post Office fair usage
Unlimited broadband from Post Office is indeed unlimited too, though it does a little bit of traffic management.
The provider's sort of vague on what exactly that management entails. What it does say for certain is that peer-to-peer file sharing is restricted at peak times - which it defines as 4pm-midnight - but other than that there's not a whole lot of info.
Sky fair usage
Sky's unlimited are completely, truly unlimited, with no traffic management either.
Although, watch out for those penalties if you're on a contract that does have a usage limit. If you go over your limit too many times, Sky will automatically upgrade you to a more expensive package.
TalkTalk fair usage
TalkTalk is pretty liberal on the fair usage front. Its unlimited broadband is truly unlimited, and there's no traffic management whatsoever.
Virgin Media fair usage
Virgin Media's unlimited packages are indeed unlimited with no limit to how much you can download - but again, it manages web traffic.
In the past, Virgin Media was notorious for throttling download speeds, but thankfully those days are behind us. These days, the traffic management only applies to uploads - so it'll affect things like Skype, file sharing, and posting to social media, but streaming, downloading, and basic browsing are all unaffected.
From 4pm-11pm on weekdays and 11am-11pm at weekends, it monitors how much data you upload. If you go over the limit for your package at the one-hour threshold, your upload speed is slowed for an hour. During that hour, if you reach the second upload limit, your speed is slowed for two hours. If you cool it with the uploading, however, your speed will go back to normal.
The exception to this, however, is Virgin Media's Gamer package - which doesn't practise any traffic management whatsoever.