Ofcom: ‘broadband providers ripping off users’

Ofcom’s latest report on UK broadband shows providers such as BT, Vodafone and TalkTalk “dominate the list of worst-rated companies for customer service — behind even banks”. CEO Sharon White said: “The fact that the telecoms industry is so far behind should be a concern for us all.”

BT, which owns Openreach, Britain’s broadband network that is used by Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, was fined £42 million (€49m) recently for not connecting its rivals to the network in an agreed time. But Ofcom reveals that some broadband companies had deliberately downgraded their service levels during 2016.

Openreach offers wholesale customers a premium “one working day” option to repair faults on a line and a standard two-day option. Both Sky and TalkTalk paid for the faster maintenance option at the start of 2016 for the majority of their customers but both switched to two days later in the year. Conversely, BT swapped its own customers to the faster option last summer. TalkTalk claims it wasn’t saving money, but it had invested to improve its own diagnostics so that it would not need to repeatedly call out Openreach.

Ofcom’s data also showed that customers subscribing to the slowest packages of up to 17 Mbps are only receiving, on average, 9.8 Mbps and said this is not sufficient to meet their needs. Speeds on “superfast broadband” come closer to those advertised, though some services are being squeezed during peak times. Ofcom said that in November 2016, 9 per cent of customers on Virgin Media’s “up to 50Mb” package and 6 per cent on its “up to 100Mb” package received average speeds of less than 10 Mbps between 8pm and 10pm, for example.

BT remains the company that attracted the most complaints, with its level of dissatisfaction 69 per cent above the industry average, reported Ofcom. It is also the slowest company to answer a call, taking on average 2.51 minutes to connect to an operator. Its Plusnet subsidiary was the worst offender, taking seven minutes and 27 seconds to pick up the phone to customers, driving more than a fifth of people to give up before connecting. When connected, BT scored higher in terms of handling its complaints than TalkTalk and Virgin Media.

John Petter, head of BT’s consumer unit was reported in the FT saying the industry needs to “get its act together” before the regulator steps in on the issue.

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