/ Technology

Flawedband: are you happy with your broadband service?


Our latest research shows over half of households have had a problem with their broadband service in the last year alone. Are you one of them?

I’m sure like many of our Convo readers, I am quite good at taking action when I’m unhappy with a product or service. I switched mobile provider last year; I recently convinced my parents to switch broadband provider; I challenge my gym when my experience doesn’t live up to my expectations (having my spin class cancelled on the day one week did not make me happy!).

And yet there are still many examples where I accept poor service. Things pass me by, or I just accept as the status quo. And for many broadband customers, this seems to be the same.


Our latest broadband satisfaction survey found that more than half of Britain’s households have experienced a problem with their broadband provider in the last year. As with all of our surveys, experiences varied across providers but even the lowest score still showed a quarter of customers experiencing problems.

The top complaint was price increases, affecting one in five.

Slow speeds was the second biggest problem, with frequent connection drop outs and problems with routers following respectively.

It’s a positive that automatic compensation will come into force next year with 90% of the broadband market committing to doing it. But even then, compensation will apply only to three areas (slow repairs, missed appointments and delayed installations) that don’t appear in our top four list of problems.

Automatic compensation is certainly a welcome step, and something we at Which? have campaigned for, but ultimately we want the service to improve in the first instance.

Communication failure

With over half of people experiencing problems, I’m sure many do take action with their provider, but it has to be the case that many more don’t.

I think that often consumers are confused about what they can do, they don’t understand what the problem is, and they get frustrated with slow or no customer service to fix it. Furthermore, they don’t understand when they can and should negotiate on price. (Want to know more? Check out our advice on haggling for the best deal.)

Are you surprised at the results? What grumbles do you have with your broadband service and have you managed to have them addressed by your provider? And what can be done to stop more than half of households having problems?

Which? surveyed 1,901 telecoms customers in Dec 2017 to Jan 2018. We require a minimum of 30 responses to give a rating or score on any particular measure. Broadband customers were asked: ‘Thinking about the last 12 months (i.e. since December 2016), which, if any, of the following problems have you experienced with your broadband?’.


I am happy with Zen When I suffered from slow speeds it was very quickly sorted the problem was at the exchange They are not the cheapest but the best provider that I have used

H I am with Talk Talk & recently I am so happy with the speed of my broadband & even told them so When they rang me to find out if all was okay so I have no problem.

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I am lucky enough to have FTTP broadband and it has not let me down in nearly two years. I get the speed I pay for.

Our broadband speed and provision is the absolute bane of my life! Because we live in a rural community there is zero investment in infrastructure. If there’s ever a problem, the telecoms companies just do a bodge job patch up and the problem reoccurs again and again. We average speeds of 1.3 and there is nothing that any of the telecoms companies can do to increase that. I’m on the phone straight away whenever we have an issue but get exasperated being past from pillar to parcel to outsourced customer help centres. I have had to resort to dealing directly with the CEO office. We’re holding out for fibre but the closest I think we will ever get to it is when the Open Reach van passes us on the lane! Yes this might be an issue which has been debated before but it’s an issue which has a massive impact on an awful lot of people so needs to be kept current and visible until things improve! Thanks Colum for writing this.

If the above data are representative then the logical conclusion is that everyone should change their broadband provider to Zen. That assumes Zen could handle a huge increase in customers. But, like energy, people do not behave logically. Maybe many are simply not that concerned about any occasional problems, or their seriousness, to bother to change.

As, I believe, Plusnet provides the John Lewis service you’d expect them to be similar in performance, and they are as far as the top 4 complaints, yet they differ significantly overall. They are also owned by BT – which seems to be worse still.

I wonder whether this “white label” provision, where a familiar name markets a product they don’t produce, like energy, broadband, insurance, own-label rebranded electrical goods, is healthy? If you don’t make it, why not just sell it under the original provider’s name instead of relying on your “esteemed” own brand to market what may be an inferior product?

Your logical conclusion might not be logical, Malcolm. When a broadband service provider, energy company, bank or supermarket is deemed better than others there is rarely a great rush to use their service.

That is what I was saying, wavechange. But also perhaps what some reporters perceive as “problems” may not be viewed by the customer as of sufficient import for them to act.

I started with Waitrose dial up, was moved to JL broadband (still retaining the old email address as well as a JL one) and now have FTTC. When I’ve had a problem with JL – usually Bulldog seemingly telling me it was not renewing automatically, one router replacement, and a forgotten annual subscription negotiation – their phone service has been very satisfactory and the problems resolved. However, I am able to be a little patient because I do not depend totally on an internet connection as a business would.

One reason why customers may be keen to remain with their existing provider is the need to contact every organisation and individual who has been given the email address provided by their ISP. For me, that was a horrendous task and not everyone amended their records.

In the early days my employer provided an excellent dial-in service via a free number and I used this until commercial broadband services were well established in the area where I lived.

The Which? analysis appears to be based on a very small sample size and doesn’t provide much practical information for getting a better deal and faster broadband. I switched from Zen to BT a few years ago because BT was substantially cheaper (it still is – it is routinely possible to get 50% lower than the published prices via their retention team), and speed was unlikely to be any different as it uses the same ADSL infrastructure. In my experience, the only benefit of Zen is the better customer service and technical support but these facilities are not used very often.
Which? articles in the April issue have failed to explain that huge variations in prices and speed depend upon the type of line, and whether or not line rental is included (you may be paying twice for line rental if broadband is with a different provider to the landline). The line types are:
ADSL, no local loop unbundling (most exchanges outside towns). Zen calls this ‘High Cost Area’ and only displays their even higher prices for HCA after putting in the post code.
ADSL LUU (providers other than BT have their own equipment and may charge less than BT)
Fibre to the cabinet (I suspect most of those in the Zen sample have fibre)
Fibre to the premises
The omission of these important issues have slipped through the editorial net.

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Most things of any sense on this subject slip through Which? editorial net. They still seem to think that swapping ISPs whilst still using the same BT Openreach local ‘wires’ has some chance of improving speeds. Such thinking clearly demonstrates that they are not thinking.

Instead of campaigning against individual ISPs, they should be lobbying Ofcom to make BTOR do better – for everyone – not just those living in the cities. Until such time as BT Openreach has to pay compensation direct to the end user for poor quality service there will be no change in the broadband market. ISPs will take the fiscal hit and there will be no come back on the real bugbear – BT Openreach.

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a fibre optic line carries millions of times more data than a phone line. The punters using phone lines are limited by plain physics. A copper with is great for transmitting power but restrictive in carrying data. I am on 350MB+ via fibre optic – and no complaints here.

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Why oh why do these kinds of surveys not point out………….“. Because they are not objective, duncan, but seek to present a particular point of view and use only information that supports that. I suspect presenting a properly-balanced case might not be so newsworthy, although I think it would be of more benefit to consumers.

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“Our latest broadband satisfaction survey…” I think it would be useful if, when Which? tell us about the results of their surveys, they also provide a link to the survey and its data – how the survey was introduced, information given, questions asked and responses received. “found that more than half of Britain’s households have experienced a problem” – it would be useful for us to see the evidence for this sweeping statement.

Some of us ask other contributors to back up a statement with a link to the source of their information. Why not surveys?

Problems with broadband, or genuinely problems with broadband providers?

Seems to me that many may not understand that having a mobile phone live using the wi-fi, the TV streaming an HD program and perhaps a online computer game running that there might be problems. Let alone what the neighbours are doing.

So it would be nice if Which? hired some professionals to visit some subscribers homes and use heatmappers and information on neighbouring devices plus usage patterns to find out if there are self-inflicted wounds, congestion problems, aged routers running security with heavy overheads, et etc and then reported on say a sample of ten households and give the full reports.

Taking a technical subject and doing a lightweight survey to prove there is a well-known problem would be substantially better if worked examples were presented. Mr Smith had his router in the cupboard and his heatmap looked liike this, we moved it 3 metres and look at the difference.

Mr Jones signal has been improved by adding a repeater an ACME z306xy at this point in his house solving all his problems as shown by the before and after heat maps. [ Incidentally does a row of terraced houses start interfering with each other if they all boost signals even if they are normally on different channels]?

The Jones family had eight items on the wi-fi we turned four of them off and improved the signal for the used devices by x%. Is it only a marginal effect or not?

This would not only help actual subscribers but because they are concrete examples people are more likely to take action. The BBC I believe reported out that showing people thermographic pictures of their houses was highly persuasive in getting them to take action compared to generalities.

Regrettably in the decade of increased usage and speed Which? has never done the actuality – is it a cost issue?

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Robust research seems to me to be essential to properly inform consumers (and to merit the “Flawedband” accusation). I want to be told the truth, and the whole truth, if I am to have confidence in the purveyor. I don’t want to be persuaded by bias.

OK, when I contribute to a Conversation i will sometimes present a partisan point of view to try to stimulate a direction of discussion, but everyone has the chance to debate and I don’t have any “authority” to support my view. Which?, because of its position, does, I believe, have a responsibility to be seen to be seen to be objective and without bias.

Helen Blackburn says:
3 April 2018

I have Sky broadband. I was told I would get up to 4Mb/s but in reality I get less than 1Mb/s. They just fob me off with comments about distance from the exchange. I’m looking for a new provider when my contract is up. Preferably one which can provide me with broadband that doesn’t take 3 minutes to open a web page and actually allows me to watch a 30 second video without buffering all the way through.

If you could smell burning coming from your router and needed a replacement, and were also thinking of upgrading to fibre……..

We found the router supplied for fibre upped our speed from around 6Mbps to 8Mbps.

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MK says:
3 April 2018

Been with Zen for years. Their technical support quality is far far better than any other provider I’ve used during those years. I put a high value on reliability and support and £25 a month is good value.

Georgina Grant says:
3 April 2018

We are with BT as there is limited choice of provider in rural areas. We suffer frequent loss of connection to the internet, despite having a fibre. However, this is only from the cabinet which is situated some distance away from our property.

I am with a small company called Pulse8, who provide excellent FTTC broadband and very good support in the UK. They have some have first class reviews. I am getting 30+ Mbps and a reliable connection. ‘Which’ should include them in its list of ISPs.

Ifor Evans says:
3 April 2018

vodafone have been really good for me

Vodafone who?
Do you mean over 3G / 4G – which is not what is being generally discussed
Do you mean prior to Jan 2018 – in which case the provider was Plusnet (vodafoneathome & vodafoneemail)
Vodafone have only very recently returned to the direct broadband supply market

I’m more than happy with Virgin. Very few outages and amazing speed. My only quibble is with their frequent price increases although they seem competitive.

John says:
3 April 2018

I’m with Virgin and have no problems with speed but I have had major problems with their call centre, mainly understanding them and their lack of being unable to answer questions that are not on their ‘script’ I was tempted to move to an ISP that uses BT lines (was a few pounds cheaper) – in my area, they won’t even guarantee a decent speed. Secondly, they wanted me to pay to supply a pole to take the cable to my side of the road and connect to my house (my Virgin is underground and fibre) and clearly stated the max would be ‘up to’ 5mb – my 100mb from Virgin is always around 105mb!!

I am with Utility Warehouse, I get 8Mbps which is sufficient for HD catch up TV, I in creased the speed from 6 to 8Mbs by preventing the broadband signal getting past the master socket. to reaching the extension sockets.

Perhaps I am lucky. I have Virgin Media broadband and have not experienced any problem with the service in years. The speed is great and the service almost 100% reliable. My daughter recently had to transfer her Virgin Media service to another property and the gentleman who came to connect her could not have been more polite, friendly and efficient.

Having said that, the one complaint I do have is about price increases (especially for loyal customers). Having been a customer for 22 years (Telewest then Virgin) it is frustrating to see big discounts offered to new customers.