/ Technology

Could you get faster broadband for less?

We’ve never been more reliant on a decent mobile or broadband connection. For many, these connections are a lifeline; the only means of reaching relatives or accessing care and support.

This is a guest post by Sharon White. All views expressed are Sharon’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Across the population, eight in 10 of us own a smartphone, more than half of us have a tablet, while smart TVs are among the fastest growing tech products out there.

You can choose from an array of different providers, and this choice is great for customers. Companies are fighting for business by offering us lower prices, wider coverage and better reliability.

But this choice also throws up challenges. For many of us, more options can be confusing.

Companies must not cut corners

The race to sign up new customers raises fundamental questions about how we are treated.

For example, who should get better deals? Customers who have stayed with the same provider for years and not switched to a rival? Or people who do the research and are happy to haggle?

And what protections are needed to allow businesses to compete and come up with new ideas, while making sure they don’t make things worse for customers in the process

However fierce the battle for people’s business gets, one thing is clear: we are not prepared to let companies cut corners on how they treat their customers.

Fairness for customers

Ensuring Fairness for Customers is a priority for Ofcom – particularly for those who may find themselves in vulnerable circumstances, whether through their income, age or a disability.

Where we see people – or small businesses – being treated unfairly, we step in quickly and take action. Such as the £7 per month line rental cut we secured for BT’s landline-only customers – most of whom are elderly. Or capping the price of calls to 118 directory enquiry numbers.

And while our research shows most people are satisfied with their broadband or phone, we understand there are some things that can be really frustrating.

Slow, expensive broadband is certainly one of those. Our research found that around half of homes able to get superfast broadband are still yet to take it up. This is because either they don’t know it’s available or they might think it will be more expensive.

Our Boost Your Broadband campaign, supported by Which?, gives simple advice on how you could get faster broadband, for the same or less than you pay now.

People’s needs are changing

Seeing your bill creep up after a promotional offer ends is another frustration. That’s why we recently published plans to make companies tell you when your contract is coming to an end and what their best offers are.

You can then decide whether you want to stick to the deal you’re on, or make a change.

We’re also taking action to support mobile customers. It can’t be right that people are left in the dark about how much they are paying for a mobile handset, minutes or data – so we’re looking at options to make sure they get clearer, fairer pricing.

But ensuring fairness for customers is not a task with an end. Technology, business practices and what we expect as customers are constantly evolving. And so too must the way we work.

With the help of bodies like Which? we must keep our ear-to-the ground not just on what companies are doing, but whether what they are doing is fair for customers. That is the ultimate test, and if we see companies falling short, we won’t hesitate to step in and stand up for you.

This was a guest post by Sharon White. All views expressed are Sharon’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Do you feel like you’re paying too much for broadband that just doesn’t suit your needs? Have you used Boost Your Broadband or Which? Switch to find out if you could get faster, cheaper broadband?

Let us and Ofcom know your experiences in the comments.

Comments
Roz Bewsher says:
15 March 2019

Unfortunately the post code checker on the Boost Your Broadband page gives incorrect information for the post codes in our Parish. It states that we can get Superfast Broadband which is completely wrong. We recently moved to TalkTalk who were adamant that they would guarantee 38Mbps. Many painful weeks later an Openreach engineer arrived on our doorstep to confirm that it is impossible for us to get such speeds as we are simply too far from the cabinet – in fact he was amazed we were getting 1.6Mbps. I spoke to Ofcom about the Boost Your Broadband page but they were completely disinterested. I think this is very bad since one expects that information on the Ofcom site, especially when sponsored by Which?, will be accurate.

LizzyL says:
9 April 2019

Roz, we get the same here. In rural areas it is impossible to rely on any of the standard price or speed comparison sites as they ONLY reference options from the suppliers using the main, usually Openreach, networks or cable. Usually they advertise high speeds that evaporate when a check is made on your phone line. But they also DON’T tell you if there are minor suppliers on independent network infrastructure that can offer a better service. I’ve raised my concerns separately with Which? about this failure to alert those in rural areas that there may be better alternatives. The Ofcom information is no real help and what they say in text and the maps don’t always match.

Go to a website called ispreview, (https://www.ispreview.co.uk) from which you can get a comprehensive list of alternative providers, searching by county. See if you can get a WiMax (radio) service, or if one of the smaller, niche providers has set up a high speed link to their own cabinet next to the Openreach one. There will still be loss of speed from there, but possibly from a much higher starting point, depending on the speeds from the local Openreach exchange and how far THAT is from the cabinet.

Another source of information is the government website which provides links to subsidised rural projects, including those mentioned above. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/community-led-broadband-schemes/suppliers)

We used to get around 1Mbps via Openreach/BT lines, but following a council grant for this and the neighbouring village now get over 30Mbps. We do have to pay more, but get an enormously better speed AND service – I can even ring up their tech support and speak with someone who knows their job instead of call centre staff “problem solving by numbers”.

A 4G connection might be available. Your final, devastatingly expensive, option is a satellite link. Usage caps for any affordable package are very low and the latency (time taken for a signal to go from you to the satellite and back to a terrestrial link – think of the time lag you see sometimes in conversations between a reporter and the news presenter) means they are useless for e.g. online banking, gaming or free flowing video chats. Ispreview give a lot of useful advice on these alternatives.

I apologise if this is slightly off-topic, but as this is the only current Ofcom convo and scam phone calls fall under their jurisdiction………

I have just had a silent call from 01836120049. Googling the number brings up more information than normal.

Firstly landline phones codes in Amritsar Punjab India start 01836120000.

Secondly the number appears to be within a block of reserved UK numbers:
Phone range (01836120000 – 0018361200999)
https://finder-cal.com/01836120000

Can Ofcom say what these reserved blocks of numbers are?

I have suggested that all UK phone numbers that are not being paid for should be prevented from traversing our phone systems. That would stop an awful lot of unwanted calls that are on the increase again.

Which are excellent at their coverage of Broadband matters. But one thing is never mentioned. If I change Broadband supplier I will presumably have to change my email address. I’m currently with BT so have a @btinternet.com address.
I would, I estimate, have to notify between 250 and 300 contacts and companies to notify them of the new address. Is there any way round this? If I take all my custom away from BT, can I keep my bt email address?

I have brought this up before and the usual advice is to use one of the free services rather than the email account provided by the ISP.

Another problem is that some ISPs no longer provide customers with an email address, or so I have been told.

For many years we have been able to keep a mobile number if we switch provider and it’s high time that we could do the same with an email address – one allocated independently of an ISP. At present this can be done by paying a fee to have your own domain and email address and as long as you pay annually you should not have a problem in future.

As you say, it’s hard work if you lose an email address and it’s a pity that we don’t have an email for life unless we make our own arrangements. We never have to change our NI number or NHS number.

Broadbad – Largest providers still failing to connect with customers
25 March 2019
”Sky fared slightly better than TalkTalk in most categories, but more than two-thirds of Sky customers (67%) surveyed told Which? they were likely to switch broadband provider.
I presume the title was intentional.
Would two thirds of Sky customers actually do more than just say they’d move? It seems an astonishing number.
I wonder how many customers, like me, have an email service from their broadband provider? As it happens, I am perfectly happy with my provider but, if I were not, I would be reluctant to change because of the disruption losing my email address would cause. As Which?.net customers experienced.

It has been said above and before that it would be better if you could take your email address with you – a permanent personal address – to whichever provider you chose, and not have a barrier to change. Is this technically possible? I suppose at the moment the best way is to set up an independent email address and gradually migrate your contacts over to it in preparation for switching providers.

It’s very easy to forward incoming mail from one account to another. The original email address becomes an alias for the current one. There is no requirement for ISPs to provide this service.

When the IT department at work decided to remove the departmental identifier from our email addresses I suggested setting up aliases and these were in place until no longer required. Societies can find it convenient to use aliases, so that email addresses can be published as treasurer@… membership@… and so on, allowing automatically forwarded to whoever is in post. It means that information in printed documents does not go out of date. If you want to carry on sending email from the same account, I think it’s the case of either using one of the free services or paying for your own domain.

If so, why was the loss of Which?.net such an apparent problem?
It is only incoming mail that would concern me; there are some very irregular correspondents who can easily be overlooked.

Some of us pointed this out at the time, Malcolm. We were not listened to.

Indeed. We said at the time that maintaining a receive-only and forwarding server would have cost Which? almost nothing in cash terms, against the deluge of bad publicity and bad feeling scrapping the entire service created.

I believe you can keep your BT email address for payment of a monthly fee.

I have used the recent Which online form to try and get some competitive quotes for broadband and telephone service, but it provides the wrong information for my and any other fibre to the house connection for any postcode address. I am presently with BT and lucky enough to have a superfast fibre broadband connection to the house and yet the answer which comes back from the search engine is that I have no phone or broadband connection. This means that BT have a monopoly over the supply to my address and so I just have to pay whatever they ask for phone and broadband. This can not be a fair arrangement. Customers who are offered fibre to the house by BT should beware they will be entering into a contract with a monopoly supply hold over them. The only way I can escape apparently, is to have my copper connection reinstated so that I can go back to a slow broadband connection with an alternative ISP.

This is something we are seeing more and more of.

Where the Openreach network is present, any provider can use it. But in many locations, other providers opt not to simply because they decide the cost of using the infrastructure isn’t worth it for the number of customers who will sign up. So it’s not a case of BT preventing competition from other providers.

While we were discussing Flanders and Swann in The Lobby I came across this delightful contemporary take-off of ‘The Gasman Cometh’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBMoR1NMwVg

Apologies to anyone who is struggling with broadband problems.

LizzyL says:
10 April 2019

Brilliant!

Sharon comments that not all residents take up high speed broadband when available. Unfortunately, Ofcom and price or speed comparison sites just don’t tell consumers about small local ISPs, including those providing the service after gaining a public grant. I understand that eg for wireless services there may be areas with no reception, but if someone enters a postcode into the Ofcom tool, why can’t Ofcom provide a list of niche/community ISPs that operate locally and MIGHT be able to provide a service in addition to those using the Openreach network? The only reliable resource I’ve found for lists of these alternative ISPs the is ispreview site, but not everyone knows about this.

By June 2020 BT will upgrade 700,000 existing customers to FTTC for zero extra charge and by January -2020 all BT customers will get help from the UK NOT India (shutting down cal centres there).