Across the pond in the UK, many will know Virgin Media for their speedy Internet access to homes, offering up to 200mbps for residential buildings, and offering quicker speeds than most providers relying on BT can even come close to reaching. Of course, with the rise of triple and quad-play offerings in the UK, it should come as no surprise that Virgin Media also offer up their own mobile service of sorts, running off the back of EE’s network. In fact, Virgin Media have been running their own mobile network for a long time now, and their latest move will put those keen to keep the net entirely neutral on high alert.
With their new 4G tariffs, Virgin Media is zero-rating access to Facebook as well as WhatsApp, which effectively exempts these two services from ever making a dent in a customer’s data allowance. Considering that Virgin Media is known for giving users lower-cost, high value options, with prices as low as just £6 a month, this has become something of a cause for concern for some. It’s easy to argue that WhatsApp won’t ever take up that much data from someone’s allowance, and that offering access to it at no extra cost or detriment to a data allowance is little more than a marketing gimmick, but Facebook and their push for video, could create a lot more data usage than their messaging app. Virgin Media told the Financial Times that “neither the EU net neutrality regulations nor the subsequent BEREC guidelines prohibit the zero rating of services”. This is entirely correct, and just as T-Mobile has shown in the US, zero-rating isn’t illegal here, either, and can be used as a significant marketing ploy to bring in new custom.
Virgin Media is also offering some much more attractive options for customers as well, with 4G data that goes unused from one month usable during the next, as well as a new “Freestyle” type of plan. This allows customers to split the cost of a contract and a phone in two across a 24-month period. The new 4G plans from Virgin Media are competitive, with many starting at under £10, with 20GB of data costing £25 a month, which is pretty competitive to say it’s a 30-day rolling contract. Virgin Media isn’t the first in the UK to offer zero-rated access to services like WhatsApp, and they probably won’t be the last, but with Facebook and WhatsApp coming up as the main options for this in the UK, talks of preferential treatment are bound to follow suit.