When Jio announced “truly unlimited” wireline broadband, many naive people — myself among them — were quick to assume that words had meaning, that telecom operators respected the basic reality of language, and that this would be big for competition in the broadband industry. Then again, the devil is always in the fine print. Both Airtel and Jio, in their respective terms & conditions, say that these “unlimited” high-speed plans actually have a data limit of 3.3 terabytes. Gizbot was among the publications that first spotted this discrepancy.

So essentially, both companies are misleading customers with their plans by inaccurately stating they are ‘unlimited’, and concealing deep in their company’s literature what they call a “commercial usage” limit. So it turns out that instead of challenging the competition, Jio was merely in lockstep with it; Airtel has had the 3.3TB limit for a while, even as it put out a press release this weekend touting its “unlimited” plans.

FUPs are disappearing into the fine print

This isn’t new in the wireline broadband industry; Fair Usage Policies, or FUPs, have long been in place to slow down data speeds after customers use a certain amount of data. This age-old practice is essentially a data cap, but instead of ending internet access, ISPs slow it down after. What is new here is that Jio and Airtel, two of the largest telcos in the country, seem to have determined that communicating this limit is no longer necessary. Even in the US, whose fixed-line broadband industry is among the most non-competitive in the world, ISPs like Comcast have an entire page dedicated to telling consumers about a 1.2 terabyte data cap they have in place in some places.

Jio, by the way, does communicate this data cap — but only for “Titanium” users who pay extra for gigabit internet. Those users get 6,600 GB instead of 3,300 GB. Additionally, they get the basic courtesy of knowing what they are paying for. This has the somewhat amusing outcome of Jio’s “unlimited” plan costing less than half of its openly capped Titanium plan, with just a Rs 150 streaming subscription value difference:

Source: Jio

Jio also moved its clause on the 3.3TB data limit from the top of its terms and conditions page for Jio Fiber to the bottom, where users are less likely to spot it.

Our take: You might argue that 3.3TB is enough for most people. Then again, that’s not really the point — “enough” does not mean “unlimited”. Vodafone-owned YOU Broadband has data caps that are around 4TB, but these are communicated clearly on its website, and the company doesn’t (for the moment) hide behind legal gray areas to make untrue marketing claims. Even if we do accept this argument of this much data being enough, consider that one hour of video on streaming services consumes a lot more data than it used to. In a family with multiple 1080p or 4k-enabled devices, services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video would suck hundreds of gigabytes from users’ data allowances over a month.

Renaming and hiding data caps like this is a dangerous development, as other ISPs may follow suit to attract customers.

In a billing cycle where a user has an unexpected hard drive backup restore thrown in, a few days of perfectly reasonable home data use morphs into “commercial usage” that slows down your connection. And a customer who paid for “unlimited” internet may be left scratching their head wondering what exactly that word was supposed to mean.

We have reached out to Jio and Airtel for comment, and will update our post with their responses if we receive them. We have also reached out to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for their thoughts on such marketing.