The National Advertising Review Board (NARB) in the United States has denied an appeal from Mint Mobile, which defended the MVNO’s use of the word “unlimited” in its advertising. The review board said that while the company advertises an unlimited prepaid plan, there is in fact a data cap of 35 GB per month, after which traffic is slowed.
The recommendations come from a panel of the NARB and apply to Mint’s use of the terms “Unlimited” and “UNLTD” in its ads. The operator’s unsuccessful appeal of a November decision came after several of the carrier’s ads for unlimited prepaid 4G/LTE and 5G plans were challenged by U.S. operator AT&T.
Mint Mobile said it will comply with NARB’s decision and supports the self-regulatory process, “although it disagrees with the Panel’s conclusions.” Mint had already agreed to permanently discontinue claims of “5G 4G LTE Data Unlimited and “Unlimited Data” but had appealed the use of “Unlimited” and “UNLTD” altogether.
“Because Mint’s headlines ‘Unlimited’ and ‘UNLTD’ describe an unlimited data plan, any disclosure that limits basic data usage on the plan contradicts this message and conflicts with consumer expectations of an unlimited plan,” the panel concluded in its decision, which was put out on 9 December.
U.S. regulatory agencies have, for quite some time now, been taking aim at mobile plans that use the term “unlimited” for service that is throttled after a certain upper limit of data consumption is reached. The major national operators AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have all been affected by similar rulings in the past.
A plan that limits speeds while not cutting off data service can accurately be called unlimited only if the concept of a “limit” is taken to apply only to data and not to speed. And aside from any debates over the precise amount of throttling that must take place before the practical utility of the service is eliminated, one must agree that since data speed is an integral part of data service, a mobile internet signal that is throttled is not unlimited. Under this conception, Mint’s definition of the term “unlimited” is itself quite limited, if not actually inaccurate.
Regardless of the semantics of the matter, we cannot avoid the conclusion that as far as mobile operators are concerned, consumers today are savvier than ever, and therefore are not easily taken in by claims of unlimited service that rely on technicalities. A lack of straightforwardness and transparency tends not to go down well with subscribers or potential subscribers, so that even without reprimands from regulators, operators that claim “unlimited” status for throttled plans may find themselves in trouble with their intended client base.