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Tech Talk Radio Show 23 of 2010
Transmission date: June 7, 2010
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Ep 23 of 2010
June 7, 2010

How many definitions of the word “unlimited” would you expect to find in the dictionary? Well a quick search finds that “unlimited” when used as an adjective means:

1. not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.
2. boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.
3. without any qualification or exception; unconditional.

The problem is, that Australian telecommunications companies seem to think that when something is unlimited, then it has limits – something the flies in the face of every English dictionary known to mankind. The good news is that the ACCC or Australian Competitions and Consumer commission, also has a problem with telcos redefining the English language.

This week Optus and AAPT came under the watchful eye of the ACCC over their latest respective offerings in broadband and telephony. By definition, unlimited means and implies that there are no restrictions. To consumers, if you were to purchase a product or service which was unlimited, then one could safely assume that no restrictions apply and you’d be pretty dark if you hit a limit while using a product or service – right?


Another word which telcos pushed to the level of redefining recently was “free” a word which implys no cost. Phone companies, or any advertisier for that matter, is not allowed to say a product is free unless it genuinely is. According to Free TV Australia, the governing body responsible for approving commercials on free to air television, Particular care must be exercised when describing goods and services as “free”. It is considered misleading or deceptive conduct under the Trade Practices Act 1974 to falsely advertise goods or services as “free” if the cost of those goods or services is recouped from the buyer in another way.

Where goods or services are available at no cost but subject to conditions, it is insufficient for the advertiser to advise merely that conditions apply. The relevant conditions must be made clear to the viewer, for example, where a second good or service is made available free or as a gift only if a first good or service is purchased for a price, this must be stated.

Price rises elsewhere or other conditions not clearly outlined (such as offering a mobile telephone for ‘free’ or $0 but placing the customer under a contractual obligation of minimum payments for a set term) will be misleading or deceptive conduct.

So if this is the case for using the word “free” in advertising, why should “unlimited” be any different? The ACCC has viewed Optus' "$70 pre-paid Turbo Max plan" as deceptive and misleading, asking the question is 3000 minutes unlimited? As a result, Optus gets to explain this new usage of the word “unlimited” to the Federal court on June 25.

Telstra also had problems in 2007, with an advertising claim that Next G was everywhere you needed it. They told in no uncertain terms by Justice Gordon that you just can’t say that, and that the statement was misleading. So thanks to Australian telcos, it seems that dictionary definitions need to be ratified by the federal court. If these companies insist on re defining dictionary definitions, what other antics to they apply this poetic license to?

As consumers, beware of the telco offers that seem too good to be true, because that they are.

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