What is Fair Usage?

Thursday, 1 September, 2016

Selecting the right broadband package is a difficult choice – you need to consider speeds, price and download limits among other things. Most consumers tend to go for the unlimited package reasoning that it will make things easier, remove allowance issues and be the cheapest option in the long run. One clause in the contract can often prove to be a thorn in the side of consumers adopting this mindset.

Fair usage is a term used in almost all unlimited broadband contracts but many misunderstand what it actually means. It references a secret limit placed on unlimited packages. It used to be a strict limit vigorously enforced providers throttling back download speeds but, this scenario is slowly changing.

Acceptable usage

Unlike fair usage which reflects how much you’re using the internet, an acceptable usage policy controlshow you use it. These are becoming more commonplace among the major providers such as BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk. By signing your broadband contract, you are agreeing to use your connection reasonably. Meaning you cannot conduct any illegal activities, such as downloading copyrighted files or using banned streaming sites.

Some providers will take this clause a step further and restrict use beyond what is “reasonably expected of someone using the service for domestic purposes”. If you are downloading or uploading a ridiculous volume of data, they will investigate. A heavy internet user will not come close to downloading the volume of data needed to trigger an investigation, so the majority of broadband consumers will not need to worry about this.

Each Internet Service Provider (ISP) has its own set of rules when it comes to fair or acceptable usage. Check your contract to ensure you stay on the right side of these rules.


BT offers a truly unlimited package, there is no limit on downloads or uploads and they will not manage traffic at peak times.


Like BT, EE also offers a truly unlimited service. However, at peak times (weekday evenings and weekends), they limit the speed of connections made for peer-to-peer downloading, newsgroups, streaming and downloading large files.


There is no download cap on any Plusnet unlimited package. It manages web traffic based on priority. At peak times precedence is always given to VoIP services like Skype and online gaming. Online browsing, email and streaming are medium priority services. Peer-to-peer downloading and software updates are the lowest priority.


Sky has a completely unlimited fair usage policy and there is absolutely no traffic management.

Virgin Media

Virgin offers unlimited downloads but has strict traffic management policies. It used to throttle back download speed but is now focused on uploads only. At evenings and weekends, if you stray over the unspecified hourly upload limit your speed will be slowed for the next hour. If it continues, the upload speed will be limited for a further two hours. If you stop uploading it will return to normal.


Out of all ISPs, TalkTalk has the most liberal policy. There is no limit on downloads or uploads and no traffic management. It even sets a little capacity aside so there will be no issues catching up on TV through your YouView box.