/ Technology

Are you stuck in a rut with your broadband provider?

I’ve been an advocate of broadband switching for a long time. Why stay with a provider you aren’t happy with? Yet our survey found that many unhappy consumers still aren’t switching their broadband. So why is that?

Our investigation into broadband switching found the majority of customers had a positive switching experience in the past, yet there was still room for improvement.

The overriding message was that many are discouraged from switching because they’re concerned something will go wrong, or they think it will be too much effort.

A tale of switching

I was horrified when I found out how much my parents were paying for their home phone line and broadband connection. Unsurprisingly, they found a much better deal without much trouble and decided to switch.

One of their main concerns was the physical switchover of the router and connection. Unfortunately, their concerns were well founded. The old line was cut-off 24-hours before they were told it would be without any explanation or warning.

As an additional complication, the password for the new broadband account had been arranged over the phone but was somewhat lost in translation. But all in all, they were happy to be up and running fairly painlessly, until a few weeks later…

The sting in the tale

BT told my parents to expect two final bills for the separate broadband and home phone line rental accounts they’d closed. However, when a letter from BT arrived, it turned out to be a normal bill for the next charge period as though nothing had ever happened.

Were BT finding it hard to let go of this relationship? My mum was told the proper procedure for cancelling the broadband had not been followed. When my parents signed up with Plusnet, they were told this would be taken care of and, since the broadband had been offline for 24 hours, they were fairly convinced it had been.

The customer service representative’s response to this was that there must have been an outage in service, but I remain unconvinced.

Did they live happily ever after?

Two more calls were required before the situation was finally sorted. But why should switching involve a morning of chasing companies, with the onus on the customer to check the situation is sorted? Overall, my parents are pleased they made the move. But they aren’t alone in their experience, as nearly one in 10 of the switchers we asked found they had problems setting up a new connection or found their old provider was still taking payments.

We’ve shared our research with Ofcom, which is currently reviewing how broadband switching can be improved. Have you had a negative experience switching your broadband in the past?


I should be interested to know how many “unhappy consumers” there are as a percentage for each broadband supplier. Maybe it is significant which might explain why the companies put obstacles in the way of switching. Your article makes it very clear why people are loath to embark on a switch. This certainly needs to be addressed in the interests of protecting fair competition. At what speed is Ofcom currently running [to the nearest quinquennium will do]?

. . . Won’t hold my breath then.

Thanks Catherine.

I know some people who remain tied to their ISP because they chose to use an e-mail address provided by their ISP many years ago and are now reluctant to change it. If they leave their ISP, they will lose their e-mail address. To prevent this, I believe we need a ban on the bundling of e-mail addresses with new broadband connections and the right to keep an ISP-provided e-mail address for a reasonable low fee after leaving an ISP (e.g. £1 per month).

Yes nfh, where the ISP and the broadband provider are one and the same that is probably the most important consideration, and you can see why the providers are frightened of yielding such a facility.

Personally I am not unhappy with my broadband supplier and I could take my e-mail adddress to any other but I would hate to have to change my e-mail address for any reason – the ramifications are unquantifiable!

Actually there is a far cheaper way than paying a £1 a month to make sure you have a constant email address, just buy a Domain Name! Typical cost is around £3.50 a year, I’m paying £2 a year on a long term deal. As every deal I’ve looked at has email forwarding you just arrange that your email address gets forwarded to emails@newISP.com or whatever they assign you.

I have had the same email address for over 10 years and have changed my ISP a number of times.

You can also for a little extra get email hosting, in this case you pick up and send your emails from the hosting company and can avoid the rather poor efforts provided by the ISPs, one of which was losing over 70% of my mail due to poor spam filters.

Further to my curiosity about the percentage of broadband consumers that are unhappy, I am wondering [a] how many are fed up with poor performance or functionality, [b] how many are not content with the their current price in comparison with other suppliers which might have become more competitive, [c] how many are dissatisfied with the customer service, and [d] how many just want or need a different package/bundle.

I do think it would be very helpful to put some scale on this issue: it is so easy to say that “many unhappy consumers still aren’t switching their broadband”, but are we talking hundreds, thousands or millions? For all I know the proportion might actually be insignificant – nobody seems to be giving us this information. Didn’t the Which? survey produce an indication of the extent of unhappiness and its causes?

I agreed to switch my ISP on the 28th May 2012. On the 1st June my new router was posted and on the 8th June I was activated with my new ISP provider. I found out that I was still paying direct debits to my old company which I queried and then it all seemed to go wrong. I still believed I was with my new company but on the 21st June my Broadband connection stopped. I rang my new companies ‘Help Line’ to be told, “Why have you rang us you haven’t got broadband with us.”. It appeared that my old ISP took my broadband line back without telling me and the on the 21st June they disconnected it altogether so leaving me without any broadband at all. After a number of phone calls and at one stage being told by my old provider that I could not have broadband as I was to far from the exchange, despite having had it with them for over 10 years, a new order for broadband was placed with my new company on the 4th August. I have then had to wait for my new activation date which is tomorrow. I have had a total of 28 days without any broadband connection at all having to resort to buying a dongle to do my banking, read my emails and write this. I haven’t done anything wrong apart from wanting to switch companies so why have I been 4 weeks without broadband?
My new ISP has been very helpful and I just hope it all goes well tomorrow.

Dave D says:
21 August 2012

I have only ever used two broadband providers: BT and Post Office Telephones.

BT were pretty good and the cost was not all that far out of line with most other providers at the time I left them, however they introduced the charge (which was being dragged through the courts to see it it was legal, and I never did hear the outcome of that) for people who wanted to pay quarterly by any method other than Direct Debit, and since I refuse to use Direct Debit (after too many bad experiences with companies taking far more than they agreed to – including over £5,000 for a whole year’s contributions to a pension fund, rather than the agreed 12th of the £5,000 – £416 – each month) and was unwilling to pay BT additional money for paying on line, I left BT.
I moved to Post Office Broadband and Home Phone. The move was painless and I am happily paying slightly less than the BT equivalent package, by quarterly payments made by cheque (as te Post Office don’t seem to do on line banking payments).
The only downside is that the Broadband service is rather unreliable, but to be fair, it was with BT too and the BT engineers explained that this was because I am on the very edge of the Exchange area.

The one thing that really annoys me, but it’s not about switching so it’s not really relevant here, is that the Post Office technical support is utterly useless and the staff are very rude. Thankfully I’m not generally in need of this service, but I don’t recommend Post Office for anyone who thinks that they would be.

john mccolgan says:
22 August 2012

If you are with BT the one bit of advice I would give you is call them and find the EXACT DATE when your contract ends. YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS: Give BT no less than 30 days notice that you wish to end your contract. SO:- if your contract ends on 30th NOVEMBER, you must give them notice no later then 30th OCTOBER. I’d do it a few days before by telephone and confirm it be a registered letter.

John Boland says:
22 August 2012

Virgin Media comes No. 10 on your list but regardless of the top providers, they are the only ones to give us fibre optics. We regularly have 36/48 Mbps whilst all the other (better) providers can only offer 7Mbps and as we use three computers, this is very poor.

When asked, the usual reply is that that fibre optics and faster speeds will be available “at a later date” which seems to be this year, next year, never.

Yes, it would be nice to change to say, Plusnet which would save money but impractical.


John Boland

The Which? article mentions that Greenbee and Waitrose broadband are being replaced by John Lewis broadband. I am a Greenbee customer and was very annoyed to get a letter telling me how the new service would offer various “improvements”: better value, a bigger download allowance, PC security and phone options. The headline monthly price was £24.50 (I currently pay £29.99) but to get the same phone option as I have now would cost £29.50 – wow, a 49p saving! I don’t need a bigger download allowance and I already have security software in place. In return for this I will be tied in to a new 12-month contract. OK, they are offering a new router, which is no bad thing – I find them unreliable, maybe because they run so hot. My previous one cracked the melamine tablemat that I placed it on so I’ve put my current one on a rack. But of course I will have the hassle of setting up the new kit.
What has made me even more angry is that John Lewis are offering 6 months free to new customers, but not, apparently, to the loyal Waitrose and Greenbee customers it is forcing to “upgrade”. I would switch to another provider, but I can’t face the hassle of changing my e-mail address; it’s made worse by the fact that so many websites insist on using your e-mail address as your user-id.

David B says:
24 August 2012

I have been with AOL for many years. Why you might ask. Is it because they offered me the following package when I threatened to move?

Unlimited download allowance and free 01, 02, 03 phones calls 24/7 – all for £7.20/month + any other phone calls (e.g. to mobiles). My download speeds are about 6Mbps.

BT keep sending me offers, but none get near to matching this “special” AOL deal. My main problem is I cannot access the cheaper BT line rental with an annual payment as I make no BT calls.

Regarding taking email addresses with you – I understood that web-based emails are transferable, e.g gmail, hotmail, and for me AOLmail.

I have been a customer of Talk Talk for many years. The provide with my boradband and phone service.
The service is atrocious but reasonably priced. I would leave tomorrow if I could keep my email address and be assured that the move would be straightforward and without complications.

Dick says:
25 August 2012

Is it not possible to change ISP and keep your old e-mail address? I have several addresses in UK and abroad that send on e-mail to my AOL address. Can I not get it sent on to my ‘new’ e-mail when I get it?

Ken Woodcock says:
26 August 2012

I think your printed article in the September edition should have clarified the following issues more.

1. There was no mention of the problem of dedicated email addresses (although you do have a section about it on the web). The advantages of POP3 emails are significant for some people.

2. The use of the phrase “Usage Cap” in the table is misleading in that it implies a hard cut off. A friend opted for an unlimited package because she feared being cut off if she exceeded the “Cap”. Often, all it means is that you pay extra or for some ISPs the speed is reduced. It can be cost effective having a lower cap if you only occasionally exceed it.

My provider is not rated highly by Which? – but comparing is difficult as it includes unlimited anytime telephone calls to non-premium rate landlines.
Which of the “good” providers do the same? Is the monthly price you cite inclkusive of this?

Laura Boyce says:
31 August 2012

I have been putting off changing my supplier for months because of the hassle of changing email address (as others have noted). My problem has been keeping within 60 GB limit with Plusnet and being charged £5 for every 5GB over. There are only 2 of us in the house but my teenage son does a lot of streaming. After reading the Which article I called Plusnet to say that I would leave them because of the usage cap. They offered an immediate upgrade to 120 GB for no extra cost! I am so pleased I don’t have to go to the trouble of changing provider. So, my advice to others is to ask for a better service and you might be lucky.

Believe it or not, I am a happy TalkTalk customer and I am surprised that it continues to get such poor ratings in Which?. The package I am on is called TalkTalk Plus which is a phone plus broadband option. The monthly cost is £14.50 plus £9.50 line rental (paid as a lump sum in advance), so £24 all in for phone and broadband.
The broadband is, I think stated to be “up to 16Mb” – I actually get 5 to 6 in the evening and 10 to 11 during the day. I am happy with that. There is no cap on usage, only a fair usage policy which has never affected me.
The phone packages gives me included calls 24×7 to UK landlines, plus 0845 and 0870 numbers. Also included are all calls to 36 international destinations, including Australia where we have family. All of this subject to the usual one hour limit, ie you have to hang up and re-dial or you start to get charged by the minute.
Customer service? Well, my broadband dropped out this morning – the last time it did that was in April 2011 because I keep notes of the techy stuff they do. I got through to a real person (ok, in India I guess, but no communication problem even with this retired Scot) on the free (ie included in my phone package) number within about 3 minutes. They decided there was a probably fault on the line and promised to check and phone back on my mobile between 12:00 and 14:00, which they did. I was told that someone would get out (to the exchange?) to fix the problem within 24hrs. I was also constantly updated by texts to my mobile, the last of which came in at 16:30 today informing me that the fault had been fixed and asking me to text back to confirm all was well, which I did.
So, I’ll not be looking to switching to another ISP anytime soon.

Phew! I thought I was less sensible than I thought. I am very happy with Talk Talk Plus; what it offers and its price. My laptop does sometimes tell me “DNS server unavailable” but I’ve yet to find out if that is Talk Talk or something in the house (connection router, etc)

I have had a similar “DNS server unavailable” problem and I think it might be a TalkTalk issue. I have worked around it by changing some settings in my (Netgear) router. The default setting for the DNS address is, “Get automatically from ISP”. After a bit of research I changed this to “Use these DNS Servers” and entered and, so instead of looking to TalkTalk to translate the webpage address to an IP address it now goes to another (Google I think) server to carry out this task. Seems to have worked ok.

I rang John Lewis/Waitrose this morning for a mac code as I want to switch to BT Infinity. I thought they’d be able to generate it immediately (as my mobile phone provider had) …but no. My code will only be available after the full five working days stipulated by Ofcom have elapsed. Pity. I would have recommended them – until now. They have in all other respects been a reliable, helpful – if rather expensive – provider.

[If a major mobile phone provider can call one up in store in minutes how come it takes John Lewis – a national retailer normally known for decent customer care – a full 5 days. I really am curious as to what goes on behind the scenes.]

Upshot is I can’t order my Infinity until this time next week, a full week later and quite possibly missing the BT deal I was hoping to sign up to…

Martin Pape says:
20 November 2012


In the September issue of Which? magazine, your review of broadband providers again puts AOL at the bottom. Your articles on pages 56-59 and again on page 66 almost express incredulity that any one should still be using AOL. I have been with AOL for many years, initially just for internet access and latterly for internet (broadband) and landline phone (including line rental and with no extra charge for most phone calls 24/7). The service provided by AOL has been reasonable and their charges are very competitive. Connection reliability is 100% but my connection speed is poor. Their billing is OK but their call centre is pretty awful – fortunately I rarely have to use it..

When my previous contract with AOL was nearing the end of its term, I enquired with some of your best buys. None would have been significantly cheaper than AOL (I am non-LLU) but the biggest barrier to changing supplier is that I would have to have a new landline phone number. (I wouldn’t need a new email address as some time ago I switched to a gmail address.) Your articles do not mention that (some?) broadband and landline providers take phone numbers out of BT. Changing my landline number would be a huge inconvenience. You should mention this as possibly being necessary when changing suppliers, and you should campaign for the problem to be resolved as well as for portability of email addresses.

Thanks for your efforts.