When Unlimited means limited

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 3, 2007
Updated • Jun 5, 2013

Did you ever fall into the trap that you signed up for an unlimited service only to find out at a later time that the unlimited service did not really mean unlimited at all?

I fell into that trap with my first website which i hosted at a provider who promised an unlimited web hosting plan. No extra money for transfers over a certain amount of gigabytes, no worries about cpu and sql usage, everything was advertised as being unlimited.

I started to host a couple of files on the server and also ran resource demanding scripts on it, and it did not take long until I was told that I had to upgrade the hosting account to a dedicated server costing ten times what I paid, or look for hosting elsewhere.

I terminated the account and switched hosting to a provider who did not offer unlimited hosting. What I promised myself back then was to always read the fine print, terms of service and other legal documents before signing up. And if I could not find the information I was seeking, I either contacted the company in question, or looked elsewhere instead.

Today I read about Verizon's Unlimited Data Plan which has a download limit of 5 Gigabytes and restrictions in place that forbid many internet activities such as downloading and streaming movies, p2p or web camera posts. So, the biggest question I'm asking myself now is what exactly is unlimited in the unlimited data plan from Verizon? It is obviously not the data, so what is it? What justifies the name?

I was not able to find an explanation for the term unlimited in Verizon's data plan. It is pretty obvious that there is an inflation with terms like unlimited and flatrate. Many companies use it to lure customers who think that they get the real meaning of the word and not just a way of making more money by fooling the customers.

Back to Verizon, I really like the following sentence in their terms of service agreement:

Anyone using more than 5 GB per line in a given month is presumed to be using the service in a manner prohibited above, and we reserve the right to immediately terminate the service of any such person without notice

So, all rights to the company, none to the customer. Would you really sign up for a contract or prefer to pick a different mobile provider instead?


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  1. Steve said on April 6, 2007 at 12:36 am

    I really ran into this unlimited is limited problem when researching VOIP providers. I had signed up with one only to find that their unlimited plan included 2000 minutes/month — my cell phone provides me with more minutes! Then there’s Broadvoice which reserves the right to charge for overages back to whenever they feel you started “abusing” the service — I’d hate to have had them for five years and then go slightly over.

  2. Thinker said on April 5, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Panos: OVH.com – chepest server is 19 euro (24 inc.tax) BUT there is a problem site is in French. There are two other languages – German and Polish, but then server costs about 30euro. There is a English site there, but don’t look at it, it’s crap and nobody updates that site from 2 years any more.

  3. CaitSith2 said on April 4, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    “Unlimited” in dialup, actually means 744 hours per month. Some providers only allow one computer to be connected on an account, at a time. For those that allow more than one computer to be connected at a time, (In my case, with telus, exceeding 744 hours, results in billing of $1.25 per hour past that.) That can get mighty expensive if you keep 2 computers connected to dialup 24/7. It would be cheaper in that case, to get two seperate dialup accounts, one for each computer. In fact, it still is cheaper to do so, if one computer is remaining connected 24/7.

  4. Jeremy said on April 4, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I believe this term “Unlimited” at least in regards to ISP, goes back to the days of dialup. Often accounts were limited to the number of minutes or hours per month. Wasn’t long after that “unlimited” started popping up.

  5. Martin said on April 4, 2007 at 8:57 am

    The German company Hetzner offers some pretty good packages for 49 Euros per month. (Athlon64 3700+, 1 GB Ram, 2*160 SATA, free “unlimited” traffic which means the first 1 Terrabyte at full speed, after that the speed gets reduced to 10Mbit until the next billing period. 49 Euros would be about 63 Dollars.

    Ghacks is hosted there btw, but on a bigger server ;)


  6. Panos said on April 4, 2007 at 8:34 am

    Hey, thinker!
    30$/month for a dedicated server? Where? How? ;) Im in a search of such a service cause i dont want any more to rely on shared services


  7. Thinker said on April 4, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Buy dedicated server :P I got one, since virtual servers are good for small sites only. Now I got 10mbps without limits (I got sometimes transfers like 300GB per month).
    Before I bought a dedicated one, I was told to leave three virtual servers :P
    And dedicated are not so expensive – even 30$/month you can have one, and u can share with someone.

  8. Chris said on April 4, 2007 at 8:07 am

    Similar to Virgin Media’s XL 10mbps service for UK customers, ”No download limits †” – notice the little cross next to that!? – That means you are limited. Limited to 25Gb per month in the fair usage policy. Totally bs seeing as im paying for ‘no download limits’…

    NTL never used to enforce the limit, since virgin takeover we will have to wait and see…

    25gb is about 24 hours for me! haha

  9. VoodooTool said on April 4, 2007 at 7:41 am

    Its not only Verizons but a lot of the big players in hosting business act like that. They also pay the webmasters of well known hosting discussion forums and pay people to write excellent reviews about their own services.
    My last hoster tried to force me from a $10 shared hosting Plan into a $180 dedicated server Plan by locking all my accounts until i upgrade. Looks like all webmasters have to gain this experience once.

  10. Hornswaggled said on April 3, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    I have had some experience with this stuff too. Most of the time the companies involved will *upgrade something and no longer support the previous version leaving you with a worthless program.

    I’m in AZ and hear the Qwest touting the same Internet service for life price. I assume that this will be for the same service no matter what, meaning 20 years from now you can still pay x amount for a 20 year old slow service.

    In my experience unlimited for life is only good if you don’t plan on living more than a year :).

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