Brit broadband subscribers caught between crappy connections and price hikes

Survey suggests 'mediocre services' now cost 14% more

UK broadband subscribers are being hit by a double whammy of service disruptions and above-inflation price hikes, but many are caught in fixed-term contracts and unable to switch, according to consumer advocate Which?

These findings come from the outfit's latest broadband satisfaction survey, which shows more than half of respondents experienced connection issues during the previous year, yet Which? claims many are paying 14 percent more for "mediocre services" following recent price increases.

The survey covered nearly 4,000 broadband customers in the UK in the year to January 2023, and found that problems they experienced ranged from slow speeds and connection dropouts to outages and router problems, little of which is likely to come as a surprise to Reg readers.

What may surprise is that among the big players, BT performed best, with about half of its customers saying they had experienced a performance issue in the past year. Meanwhile, Sky, Virgin Media, and EE (which is also owned by BT) could only manage 32, 35 and 37 percent for their respective customers who did not report any issues.

However, even with the best performers in the Which? survey – Shell Energy Broadband and Utility Warehouse – a minimum of 40 percent of customers said they had experienced at least one problem.

The most common issue reported was that of frequent connection dropouts, with 19 percent of respondents saying they had been affected by this, while 15 percent complained of slow uploads and downloads and 17 percent complained of "very slow speeds."

Other common issues were router problems and slow or disrupted streaming when listening to music or watching video content. About 8 percent of respondents said they had been left without an internet connection for more than a day during the last year.

"It's completely unacceptable that customers who have faced these eye-watering increases are also experiencing so many problems with their connection," Which? director of Policy and Advocacy, Rocio Concha, commented on the findings.

A reliable internet connection is essential to modern life, she said, adding that broadband providers needed to do better in resolving these issues and offering a better service.

Another familiar bugbear is customer service, with 44 percent of respondents indicating they had experienced issues here, which for 11 percent took the shape of difficulty in actually reaching their provider or getting their issue resolved.

Switching providers if you are unhappy is also not as easy as it may seem despite Which? indicating that broadband subscribers may save £92 ($117) a year on average by doing so.

It claims that millions of households are trapped in fixed-term contracts where they are forced to accept prices going up by more than 14 percent on what they signed up to, with the only alternative being to swallow punitive exit fees to leave the contract early.

In response, Which? said that service providers ought to allow customers to leave without penalties if mid-contract price rises are imposed, but admitted that few actually offer this.

"It's absolutely critical that Ofcom's review of inflation linked mid-contract hikes results in changes to ensure customers are never trapped in this situation again," Concha said.

One newcomer to the UK broadband market claims to be offering a contract-free service, with no installation fees, just a fixed monthly charge.

However, an issue in the UK may be that the broadband market is overcrowded, with too many players chasing too few subscriber pounds, according to PP Foresight telecoms and media analyst Paolo Pescatore.

"The fixed line fiber broadband market is currently dysfunctional with too many players struggling to compete and see a return on investment. It is time for the UK industry to collaborate in a smarter way to provide all users with a better service," he said.

"While rolling out fiber remains a priority, we should not compromise on quality of service. Ultimately users and households want a robust and reliable connection." ®

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