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Virgin Media trialling free broadband, with a catch

Hot off the heels of its merger with O2, Virgin Media is trialling something that has a pretty universal appeal: free broadband.

As spotted by ISP Review, the company was promoting the service – known as “Be Connected Broadband” – to a limited number of people via social media, and it really does offer broadband for the unbeatable price of free. That price is for a 30-day rolling contract with the company’s HUB 3.0 router included.

There was even a special website for this – www.beconnected-virginmedia.com – but this was taken down following ISP Review’s enquiries. Google hasn’t forgotten though, and you can still see a cached version here.

So what’s the catch? Well, there are three. Firstly the terms and conditions reveal this is a very limited trial “available to approximately 200 eligible new customers.” Secondly, while Virgin Media generally makes a big play about the lightning fast speeds of its broadband, this is a considerably more pedestrian affair, offering an average download speed of just 10Mbps. This is pretty similar to a cheap package that the company offers to those on Universal Credit which offers an average speed of 15Mbps for £15 per month.

But by far the biggest catch is also hidden in the terms and conditions: “Customer must consent to marketing to receive free service.” What form this marketing would be in is unclear – we don’t know if it would be in the form of video ads, surveys, junk mail or all of the above.

So far, users on ISP Review’s forum who were able to take up the offer report speeds as promised and no obvious advertising, though obviously this can change in an instant.

The terms and conditions do also state that “Virgin Media reserves the right to withdraw this offer at any time,” which is presumably why the deal was only available on a 30-day rolling contract. It’s entirely possible the economics of free broadband don’t work, even when subsidised by advertising.

This is presumably why the company is limiting the trial to such a small number of people. If it proves workable, we’d expect the number to expand further before Virgin Media considers opening this up to the UK at large.

We got in touch with Virgin Media to ask about the trial, but didn’t get a direct responses to our specific questions. “We are always working to improve our products so regularly trial new services and offers,” a Virgin Media spokesperson said. “We have some really exciting projects underway and our customers have a lot to look forward to.” 

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