news National broadband provider Exetel has once again dipped its toe into the ‘Unlimited’ broadband plan market, launching a new offering at $55 and $65 monthly price points (including telephone line rental) that will see customers who exceed average usage patterns requested to reduce their downloading habits.
The ‘Unlimited’ style of broadband plan is popular in a number of major countries such as the US internationally, but only a small number of broadband providers offer them. They see the monthly quota on users’ accounts removed, with users theoretically being able to download as much data as they want. Other popular providers in the Australian market with unlimited plans include TPG and Dodo, which are both cut-rate providers.
Exetel has had a long-term on-again, off-again relationship with unlimited plans dating back most of a decade. In the earliest years of this decade, for example, before the onset of ADSL2+ speeds up to 24Mbps, Exetel offered a number of unlimited plans at various speeds. However, at one point it cut them, before reinstating them in December 2004. This was a pattern which the company would repeat over the years, with the most recent flirtation with the unlimited idea occurring in November last year, when then-Exetel CEO John Linton mooted the idea of bringing the plans back.
Following Linton’s untimely passing earlier this year, his business partner Steve Waddington has taken over the business. Late yesterday on his company blog, Waddington noted that Exetel had had “a sudden brain storm” with respect to Unlimited plans.
“We were talking about ‘unlimited’ plans on offer in the market, and how they all have one or more asterisk, tilda or some other super text that points to a ‘fair use’ policy that explains how ‘unlimited’ doesn’t really mean unlimited. And why the ACCC. for some reason, requires ‘unlimited*’ actually be ‘unlimited’,” Waddington wrote, referring to the regulator’s long-term suspicion of the term ‘unlimited’ being used in marketing material.
“So, why not, we mused, just call the plan ‘Fair Use’ up front – flat rate, no metering, no shaping, except in conditions where it is required – which is what the fair use policy says,” Waddington added. “Just instead of ‘hiding’ it and hoping no one notices the tricky conditions of ‘unlimited*’, have fair use up front, and explain what makes it unlimited. In fact, do away with any word as possibly misleading as ‘unlimited’ and state plainly what is being offered.”
“Maybe there is something we all missed in this, why no one does it? I guess we will find out. The ‘soft release’ of our Fair Use $55 and Fair Use 65 plans will be on the web site later today. It will be a limited time offer, and we will see how it goes.”
As Waddington noted, Exetel has launched two new fair use plans on its website, at $55 and $65 monthly price points (including $20 worth of line rental for a compulsory bundled telephone line). the $65 plan also comes with 9,000 call minutes included on the telephone line. The offers are broadly competitive with similar offers from other ISPs on the market, but those interested in signing up may want to read the ‘Fair Use’ fine print.
In the fine print associated with the plans, Exetel notes that it regularly monitors average usage statistics of its users. “… if you are deemed by Exetel to be exceeding the average, Exetel will request that you reduce your usage,” Exetel’s terms state. “Persistent breaches of our Fair Residential Fair Use Policy may result in Exetel terminating your service.” Exetel has not extended the unlimited plans to its National Broadband Network pricing.
Ah Exetel. Such an inconstant beast there never was. If the company proves to be as fickle with its pricing as it did during the Linton years, I expect these new unlimited plans to hang around for a few months (perhaps as much as six months) and then disappear. The company loves to tinker with its pricing constantly. If you’re interested in them, jump on board quickly before they vanish.
I am also pretty suspicious of the so-called ‘Fair Use’ policy which Waddington made such a big deal of in his blog post. To be honest, it’s incredibly vague, and for now pretty much states that Exetel can warn any customer they please about downloading too much data on its fair use plans, without disclosing what that actual limit it. In practice, Exetel must have some idea of what quota average usage hovers around — is it 200GB? 300GB? Why not disclose this on its web site from month to month, so that customers would have an idea of how ‘unlimited’ its ‘fair use’ plans truly are? Now that would be the definition of ‘fair’.