Checking Your Work E-Mail on Virgin Media Residential Could Get You Cut Off

Update

Since writing this post, Jim at Virgin has been in contact to clarify their understanding of the terms and conditions. Jim’s first reply can be seen as a comment to this post, and his second reply has been posted here. Jim has been absolutely first rate in communicating over this issue, and I hope this level of discourse can continue.

I have now updated by article and summary to reflect these updates.


We’ve been with Be for a number of years. Until their purchase by Sky they’ve been pretty solid, but we’ve had problems since the changeover. These past few weeks, I’ve been stuck with speeds sub 2 MBit so decided it was time for change.

Since quite a few of my freelancer-brethren use Virgin Media, and because I had received an offer through the post, I gave them a call. Twenty minutes later we had an installation date, and a start date for their 120MBit XXL package. Superb.

Then their paperwork came through with a copy of the Terms and Conditions. And because I am a diligent citizen mildly bored, I read through them. And then found section D, part 1, line h:

In case you’re not familiar with this line:

D Using the services

  1. You are responsible for the way services are used. You must not do any of the following acts or allow anyone else to do the following acts in relation to the services:

h. Use any services (including, but not limited to, phone services) for commercial or business purposes;

I work from home. I am self-employed. Taken literally, the above reads that I can’t use their service. As far as I could tell, no business use is permitted – does this include an employed person checking their workplace e-mails, or a self-employed builder sending invoices? If you’re in violation of Virgin’s T&Cs and within your minimum contract period, then you’re liable for the remaining payments in that period. In theory, if I was disconnected on day 1, that’s £470 for one day of internet connectivity. That’s quite a risk.

I wanted some clarification, so I phoned customer services. Since I was still pre-installation, I wanted to get this sorted before installation.

What I wanted to know was yes/no answers to the following:

  1. Is “Bob The Self-Employed Builder” checking his business e-mail from your service in violation of your T&Cs?
  2. Is “Jerry The Office Worker” working on a late night document for his boss from your service in violation of your T&Cs?
  3. Is “Kian the Freelancer” working on client work and uploading to his server in violation of your T&Cs?

All are business purposes, and Virgin’s T&Cs are quite explicit that this is forbidden.

I phoned customer services. Customer services were evasive. Business activity was against their T&Cs, but they could not explain what business activity was. I explained that I was self employed, and work from home. To the first customer services person, this sounded like business activity, and so I was in violation. I then asked if I was employed, but teleworked, if that was in violation. I was told that many people on their service worked that way. I asked if that was in violation of their T&Cs. I was given an evasive answer that lots of people do it, but not a straight yes/no answer with respect to their T&Cs. I then asked if a self-employed person checking their work e-mail account at home counted as business activity, and again I was given an evasive answer.

The only conclusion from this that the customer service representative could draw was that I wasn’t suitable for their residential service, and that I should probably cancel my installation. I was transferred to the pre-installation team.

I consider this an endorsement that working from home is against Virgin’s T&Cs.


Update – Jim At Virgin Says:

As before [Previous e-mail], we have no objections to people using Virgin Media broadband when working from home – e.g. connecting to their work VPN. But we ask people not to use our residential service as their main business connection as business use often requires dedicated connections and support. If we need to talk to someone about how they’re using their residential service for business purposes, we won’t disconnect them but simply focus on getting the customer the package that’s right for them.

The reason for this position is because business services such as the examples listed below usually need a higher level of support than we offer on our residential service;

  • Hosting a business grade file servers that can be accessed remotely
  • Hosting commercial websites
  • Hosting business grade email servers

However we know that people need to connect to their work systems while at home to stay in touch and feel that actions such as the following are not included in the term; Connect to a business network so they can work from home when needed using services such as VPN Connecting to their business email servers, that are hosted on a suitable business grade platform via a PC, Tablet or mobile device

My takeaway from this is confirmation of what we already suspected. Virgin have no problems with you using their services to work from so long as you’re connecting to servers and services. What they consider business use is hosting, and then only “business” hosting. Virgin say they won’t disconnect you for business use (despite their T&Cs), but they will focus on “getting the customer the package that’s right for them.”

The devil in me says the conversation may go a little something like this (possible NSFW). Sorry Jim, I couldn’t resist.


Pre-installation wanted to know why I wanted to cancel. I didn’t, but apparently my use of their service would be in violation of their T&Cs, so that’s why I was transfered for cancellation. Cue another 20 minutes with the same questions, and the same evasive answers. When I asked for “yes” and “no”, I was given “possibly”. Sorry – but if I’m taking up a service with you, I expect you to know if I can comply or not. Even worse, this person used a phrase which should never be used by a customer services rep.

It was “obvious”.

Really? Because while it may appear obvious to you, your T&Cs, taken literally, are very explicit that business purposes are forbidden. And by that, that surely means all business acts, unless you would like to give me a list of acceptable and unacceptable. The problem with asking me to be “reasonable” and see the “obvious” is that while such things may appear so, if lawyers became involved for whatever reason then your T&Cs are quite clearly against me.

I asked for confirmation of the obvious in writing. It was refused.

Eventually an agreement was made to cancel my installation, and I was transfered to the complaints department. I didn’t really want the complaints department, what I really wanted was the legal department, but that didn’t seem to be on offer. So then the complaints department asked what complaint I had, since my service had already been cancelled. She argued that all residential services have an equivalent clause in their T&Cs, and “she should know”. Another twenty minutes go by and eventually, the complaints lady agrees to take my query and a contact e-mail address and raise it with someone. No idea who it’s being sent to, and the best answer I could get for a response time was, “at least a few days”.

Whilst I was on the phone line, I made a few comments on twitter, including this:

And Virgin reinforced their position with this tweet, in direct reply:

Because we were really willing to give them a chance on this, I asked them to clarify:

And I have yet, not had a response to this. So far, that’s four people from Virgin with the same response – business use on their service is forbidden. I think that is pretty clear and obvious.

Whilst I’ve been venting this on Twitter, other people have also chipped in. Gideon Hallet makes a very solid point:

And Neil Lathwood wonders if it’s worth getting worked up over:

Maybe Neil has a point – but if things go wrong, for whatever reason, on whichever side, I want to make sure that I am not in the wrong by default.

Virgin did suggest that I purchase a business service, but that felt overkill. Considering this is used as a shared connection between domestic and business use, on a residential property, that felt overkill, and still doesn’t answer the questions outlined above.

To be honest, I think what we have here, is a failure to communicate. I do not genuinely believe that Virgin intend for their T&Cs to be read this way. I do not believe that really want to exclude all self-employed persons, teleworkers or even occasional home-workers, but in all instances of contact, that is the response I’ve had. Between the four people I’ve contacted, one person has offered to “send an e-mail”, and my query does not feel like it’s been taken seriously.

What I do believe is that Virgin don’t want people to run business or commercial premises, with multiple employees, or lots of guests, and they really don’t want people hosting their own web or mail servers. This last point, specifically, is usually written in to most domestic service contacts, not “business purposes” as the complaint’s lady was so insistent on. And honestly, I think that’s pretty reasonable. If you want to run servers, then you’ve got a reasonable reason to go and grab a business package.

This is a serious business. People depend on their internet connections for their livelihoods. Treating customer queries in this way, especially before a relationship has actually started, is not indicative of excellent customer service.

I really, really, want Virgin to prove me wrong. I really want them to reply, or e-mail, or anything, and explain exactly what they mean by section D, part 1, line h. And then I will happily nail it to this blog post and people can have some piece of mind that they understand exactly what Virgin does and does not allow on their network.


Update – Jim At Virgin Says:

It’s difficult to apply these points to the specific cases supplied – as although each case presented is realistic – It’s not so much about the initial set up and everyday use but expectations of what support is available should service disruption occur. As we appreciate the confusion, we’ve shared the blog and email with our respective teams and are keen to review.

To be honest, I’m not sure he could answer the above scenarios without a pack of mildly irritated lawyers constantly pecking at his shoulder, and that’s fine. Please note that there is still a disparity between Virgin Media’s written terms and conditions, and their interpretation of them as they share here. Jim has assured me that they’re looking in to this, with a view to reviewing the T&Cs. If and when that happens, I’ll happily update this post again.

Where does that leave users? Well on the one hand, we still have Virgin’s written T&Cs, and the way they’re written is clearly against the typical home worker. Jim has done a sterling job of pointing out that whilst that’s how it’s written, that’s not how they interpret it. They’ve agreed that it needs review, and that process is now happening.

Superb.


Whilst I was researching various broadband T&Cs, I came across the same stipulation with BT Infinity. Other ISPs vary. BT also stipulate that “If we find that you are using the service in for business or commercial purposes we reserve the right to limit or terminate the service immediately.” One to truly be fearful of for the teleworker.

I’ve been given a recommendation of Zen Internet to try. I’ll be calling them tomorrow.