Consumers ‘let down’ by biggest broadband providers during pandemic

Some of the UK’s biggest broadband providers have let their customers down during the pandemic on reliability, speed and value for money, according to the latest Which? annual survey.

Almost three-quarters of broadband users (71 per cent) have used their connection more since the Covid outbreak, but 69 per cent said they had experienced an issue with their connection – a substantial increase on last year’s survey, the poll found.

Very low speeds (59 per cent) and frequent dropouts (53 per cent) were the most common problems that users experienced more often during the pandemic. Which? said an increased reliance on broadband over the past year meant customers were more likely to notice connection issues.

The 'big four' providers – BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – supply nine in 10 households and left many customers disappointed, the poll found. 

Virgin Media - which has its own cable network in parts of the UK, theoretically allowing it to offer some of the fastest broadband speeds - received poor ratings for connection reliability. A third of its customers said they had experienced a connection outage lasting at least an hour in the past year and almost a quarter said their connection was slow to upload or download.

Overall, Virgin received an overall customer score of 53 per cent, leaving it second from bottom in the ranking. TalkTalk and Sky achieved scores of 54 per cent.

TalkTalk had the highest proportion of customers who would not recommend their provider to others and Sky rated poorly for value for money, receiving low scores for connection speed, connection reliability and ease of set-up.

BT earned the highest score of the big four with 57 per cent, pulled down by middling ratings across the board and a poor score for value for money.

Only John Lewis scored lower than the big four, racking up a disappointing 47 per cent, with low ratings for connection speed, connection reliability and ease of set-up.

Zen Internet achieved the highest customer score of 70 per cent, having previously topped last year's rankings with a mighty 84 per cent.

The survey also found customers who upgraded to fibre broadband often felt the benefits. Some 63 per cent noticed faster speeds and 45 per cent suffered fewer connection dropouts. Although superfast fibre connections are available to 96 per cent of the country, around a quarter of those surveyed said they still had standard broadband.

Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins said: “Broadband providers must up their game and meet the challenge of providing fast, reliable connections and good customer service for millions of customers whose needs and expectations have risen over the last year.

“The industry and government must also work together to ensure more people have the chance to switch to faster and more reliable gigabit-capable broadband services in the years to come, or risk undermining the UK’s goal of becoming a world leader in connectivity.”

The Which? survey comprised of 4,478 UK adults with a broadband service between December 14 2020 and January 6 2021.

The provision of a fast and reliable broadband service continues to be unevenly distributed across the UK. Members of a rural Scottish community unhappy with their internet speeds and a troubled fibre rollout recently moved their home offices to a field full of cows as a protest, in a bid to draw attention to their complaints.

In February, a study commissioned by O2 revealed that people have been increasingly switching to using mobile data to stay online during lockdown, as their broadband connections have been suffering under the strain.

The UK government's promise to deliver full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025 was a key Conservative manifesto pledge in the 2019 general election.

However, since being elected the Tories have sought to dial down expectations, saying they would go “as far as we possibly can by 2025”. In March, a committee of MPs slammed the government for its delays on rolling out gigabit broadband and 5G across the country and its failure to provide concrete information about its future plans for making these key technologies available to all UK citizens.

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