Broadband deals abound, but which one's right for you? Our in-depth reader survey revealed how well each ISP (internet service provider) is performing – and contained a few surprises…
To find out which ISPs perform best in each sector - visit: the PC Advisor broadband awards 2007
Broadband internet in the UK today
Broadband provision and the associated service (or lack thereof) is a real touchstone issue. It’s one of those technologies we depend on and take completely for granted. When we don’t get the connection speed we expect, or find ourselves unable to get online, it raises our ire as well as being a royal inconvenience.
However, broadband is in a constant state of flux. Deals and the way they are sold alter all the time, as do the connection speeds the average home can expect to enjoy. The past year or so has seen fundamental changes in the way ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) broadband is delivered, which have enabled significant speed hikes, while buyouts among service providers have led to several bundling other services, such as mobile phone contracts and TV.
A handful of ISPs dominates, with hundreds of smaller providers making up the numbers. Ofcom reports that around 450 ISPs currently do business in the UK.
For the past couple of years, PC Advisor has periodically been sticking a finger in the air and gauging the shifting shape of broadband from customers’ point of view – after all, statistics and PR claims are no indication of actual user experiences. So to find out how these changes have affected the average surfer, we ran the third of our broadband surveys. In late March and April, we asked you to tell us your experiences. More than 2,700 of you did.
What we’ve learned about broadband today
This doesn’t just enable us to give a pat on the back to the top-performing ISPs – although the award winners you’ll find scattered throughout this feature were selected as a direct result of the responses we received. The survey also told us about the decisions that come into play when you choose a broadband provider.
We were keen to discover whether issues highlighted in previous questionnaires, and which have become the subject of wider debate, have been resolved. As a result of consumer pressure and complaints to Ofcom, for example, ISPs must now make it easier for users to switch suppliers.
And we had questions for those who decided a change of ISP was due. Did your current ISP try to keep your custom, or was it happy to let you go? Did the firm make it as easy as you’d have liked, did it explain the changeover process and did it do anything to encourage you to stay?
We wanted to see how things have changed since summer 2006, when several smaller ISPs were bought out – in some cases by bigger ISPs, in others by media and telecoms firms that were new to the arena. Orange’s acquisition of Wanadoo caused lots of problems, but these have settled down.
Several of these conglomerates have followed Carphone Warehouse’s lead by launching ‘free’ broadband in return for lengthy subscriptions and customers buying several services at once. Famously, Virgin Media and Sky have been squabbling over TV channels delivered as part of bundled broadband, TV and phone subscriptions. Has it done either of them any good?
The state of the nation
So what did we discover from our month-long survey into readers’ broadband experiences? We learned which services you enjoy, the ISPs you deem worthy of an award and why.
We’ve looked into what faster speeds enable you to do and what sort of price you should be paying – as well as the issues that need to be addressed to make broadband provision better. What do service providers themselves intend to do to make it happen?
As well as asking about the specific ISP you use, we wanted to get a more general picture of the choices the British consumer is making about broadband provision.
We wanted to know whether raw speed was the main consideration or whether you’d been tempted to compromise on this for an attractively priced broadband bundle – throwing two or more essential services into one basket.
We were conscious of customer service issues that continue to dog the industry. Given that you can now choose between a no-ties contract, a standard year-long subscription and a typically longer commitment to a bundled service with lower subscription costs, we wanted to see which way the traditionally loyal reader jumped.
In past surveys our findings indicated most respondents took the ‘better the devil you know’ approach. This is no longer necessarily the case.
The outlook for broadband Britain is bright and our trickiest decision was deciding which ISP was most deserving of the customer satisfaction award. Deals have become better and more flexible, while connections are quicker and more reliable. And we know that using our collective voice when things aren’t right can yield results.
Broadband user types