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Broadband Survey 2009: 14 best UK ISPs

PC Advisor's verdict on Broadband Britain

Frustrating at times but impossible to live without, web access is too vital to settle for sub-standard service. PC Advisor analyses what 6,500 of you had to say about your broadband experiences, which ISPs are best, and how to get cheaper broadband.

Broadband survey 2009: Our survey says…

Speed complaints

Unfulfilled promises about possible connection speeds were the biggest gripe highlighted in this year’s survey. But that’s hardly surprising, since the same issue has been the cause of frustration and anger since the internet began.

Back in the days when a 56k modem, an AOL setup disc and a Windows 95 PC offered access to a whole new world of websites filled with garish graphics and dodgy animated GIFs, we were pretty much content with a hyperlink that worked, the ability to engage in newsgroup chatter with like-minded technology fans and the ability to brag about our web-connected status.

But then home broadband came along and changed the rules. BT had to ‘enable’ the telephone exchange where you lived to support broadband in the first place, and you had to live sufficiently close to the exchange to get a broadband connection.

There was no longer a level playing field, with geography and profitability becoming – and remaining – the driving factors behind the roll-out of broadband provision across the UK.

The sole exception was for cable customers. Those lucky enough to have roads that had already been ripped up so commercial TV operators could sell them additional channels became the blessed beneficiaries of the broadband generation, able to take advantage of speeds the rest of us could only gawp at.

Faster broadband has been the holy grail of ISPs and their customers ever since. But while some urban dwellers are spoilt for choice, chunks of the country still struggle to get much above dialup speeds. Adding insult to injury, while gleefully promising ‘up to 8 megabits per second (Mbps)’ connections to all who care to enquire, some ISPs charge the same subscription fee to customers stuck at far lower speeds.

Digital Britain and 'broadband tax'

To level things out, the government announced plans to hasten the spread of at least 2Mbps broadband to as much of the country as it could in its much-vaunted Digital Britain report.

Concluding that persistent web access is now a right rather than a luxury, it promptly decided that the best way to ensure broadband Britain became a reality was to get everyone to subsidise the roll-out, to the tune of £6 each. Now if that’s not a sure-fire way to stir up the hornet’s nest of malcontent caused by the inequalities of broadband access, we’re not sure what is.

Thankfully, as we write, there are strong rumours that the proposed ‘broadband tax’ would be quietly dropped.

Boost your broadband - useful links:

Don’t believe the hype

For many people, broadband has never lived up to its hype. Speed tests conducted by our survey respondents show figures far lower than the top-line speeds advertised by some ISPs. We also had independent testers at ThinkBroadband.com monitor average connection speeds across the UK throughout the three months that our survey was running.

The story was the same: while cable users and those on ADSL2+ connections enjoyed higher speeds, the national average was a disappointing 3.4Mbps.

Communications regulator Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and other industry watchers have criticised broadband providers’ habit of making extravagant claims for theoretical speeds, and other cunning ploys have come to light.

Offering 'unlimited' broadband that is actually subject to a fair-use policy is common practice; ISPs claim it prevents a minority of bandwidth hogs from clogging up the network and slowing down web access for the rest of us.

An aside is that it encourages customers who need consistently fast web access during the day to buy a business broadband package with attendant service level agreement guaranteeing uptime.

More upsetting to many respondents than apparent bandwidth throttling and port blocking (a way of preventing peer-to-peer filesharing) was unexpected, extended service outages. However, overall satisfaction ratings for home broadband were generally higher this year than in the past two years.

AOL, Orange and Tiscali scored poorly here, and this was reflected in the verbatim comments to our survey question about your criteria for choosing a different ISP – "one that offers a more reliable connection” was a near-universal cry. Zen, Be and O2, meanwhile, were the only three broadband providers to score reasonably well for the speed of their connections.

NEXT: ISPs reviewed >>

Broadband Advisor

Broadband Survey 2009 index:

  1. PC Advisor readers' verdict on Broadband Britain
  2. Our survey says…
  3. ISP reviews: AOL & Be Broadband
  4. ISP reviews: BT & BT Yahoo
  5. ISP reviews: Demon & O2
  6. ISP reviews: Orange & Pipex
  7. ISP reviews: Plusnet & Sky Broadband
  8. ISP reviews: Talk Talk & Tiscali
  9. ISP reviews: Virgin Media & Zen Internet
  10. Mobile broadband
  11. Better broadband for all
  12. Better broadband, shaping up
  13. Behind the scenes: a broadband call centre

Survey sponsored by Broadband Genie

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