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Survey: Brits hit by broadband problems

July 4, 2023

By Colin Mann

Over half of UK broadband customers have experienced problems with their connection in the past year, according to findings from consumer champion Which?, who is calling on providers inflicting above-inflation price hikes to improve their service.

Which?’s latest broadband satisfaction survey of nearly 4,000 broadband customers found over half (53 per cent) have experienced connection issues in the year to January 2023 – with very slow speeds, connection drop outs, outages, and router problems some of the most common grievances.

Which? found that these issues were persistent across all the broadband providers in the survey – with very narrow margins between the best and worst offenders for poor customer experiences.

The scale of problems faced by consumers is adding insult to injury – as many are paying over 14 per cent more for mediocre services after many providers decided to impose eye-watering price increases earlier this year, despite the struggles many people are facing during the cost of living crisis.

Of the UK’s biggest providers, Sky, Virgin Media, and EE had the lowest proportion of customers who had not experienced any issues – with just 32 per cent, 35 per cent and 37 per cent of their customers not reporting any problems.

Of the major providers, BT fared best – with half (49 per cent) of its customers not experiencing a performance issue in the past year.

Hyperoptic, Shell Energy Broadband and Utility Warehouse performed better, with half or more of their customers not experiencing any performance issue in the twelve months. However, even with these providers, at least four in ten customers said they had experienced at least one problem.

Frequent connection drop outs were the most common broadband issue – with one in five (19 per cent) of respondents affected. The second most common issue customers experienced was connection speed. Around one in six (17 per cent) overall said they had suffered slow speeds.

Slow uploads and downloads were also a common complaint – affecting one in seven (15 per cent) overall. One in seven (14 per cent) suffered router problems and another one in seven (14 per cent) said they had been left without a connection for at least an hour.

One in 10 (12 per cent) has experienced slow or disrupted streaming when listening to music or watching videos and 8 per cent said they were left without connection for more than a day.

Which?’s survey also asked about customer service. Overall, around four in 10 (44 per cent) said they had experienced some kind of customer service issue – with one in 10 (11 per cent) saying they either found it difficult to get in touch with their provider or struggled to get their issue resolved.

Earlier in 2023, Ofcom called for providers to do more to improve their customer service, particularly given the significant price rises many have experienced.

If people are sick of experiencing broadband issues and are out-of-contract, then it may be time to consider switching providers. Previous Which? research has found that on average, broadband customers can save £92 (€107) a year by switching away.

However, for customers in a fixed-term contract, it is not as easy to switch. Millions are trapped in a Catch-22 where they either have to continue paying prices more than 14 per cent higher than those they signed up to, or pay exorbitant exit fees to leave the contract early.

As part of its cost of living campaign, Which? called on providers to allow all customers to leave without penalty if they face mid-contract price rises. All but a handful of firms ignored these calls and instead ploughed ahead with their price hikes, leaving customers stuck in a lose-lose situation.

The Chancellor met regulators recently to talk about how watchdogs can ease the financial pressures on consumers. Which? believes it is absolutely essential that Ofcom’s review results in changes that ensure customers are never trapped in this situation again and have certainty around what they will be paying for the duration of their contract.

“A reliable connection is essential to modern life,” asserts Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy. “Earlier this year, many broadband consumers were hit with mid-contract price hikes of more than 14 per cent – meaning that it’s more important than ever that their provider offers a reliable connection and good customer service.”

“It’s completely unacceptable that customers who have faced these eye-watering increases are also experiencing so many problems with their connection. Broadband firms need to work harder to resolve these issues and offer a better service.”

“While some customers are able to switch away to better service and prices, many are trapped in contracts where they either have to accept above inflation price hikes in the spring or pay exorbitant exit fees to leave the contract early. It’s absolutely critical that Ofcom’s review of inflation linked mid-contract hikes results in changes that ensure customers are never trapped in this situation again,” she declared.

According to Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie, the cold hard truth of this report is that many of the major broadband providers have been struggling to get the basics right when it comes to their customers.

“Both Sky and Virgin Media have suffered significant outages since the spring, with Virgin in particular facing criticism for the sheer number of connection breakdowns, hot on the heels of imposing a mid-contract rise of nearly 14 per cent back in April,” he notes.

“This is totally unacceptable and the industry should do more to address the imbalance of power between big companies and the consumer.
“Ofcom should toughen up its rules on compensation, meaning customers can start to claim as soon as their Internet has been out of action for 24 hours, rather than the current 48. As things stand, millions of Virgin customers will have experienced multiple disconnections this year but received nothing in return.”

“Providers should also be made to amend their contracts to new customers so that regular outages mean they can leave their deal without paying an exit fee. Hopefully these changes will see broadband contracts come down in length and providers working harder to prove they

According to Tom Williams, CEO and Co-Founder of Lit Fibre, the findings are not surprising. “Broadband providers have become complacent regarding poor customer service. Taking time to explain how customers can get the best experience ‘in home’ from their wifi set-up is also top of our agenda as we know most customers need our expertise with this. At Lit Fibre we put customer service and reliable Internet first from the outset, it’s the bare minimum we think customers should be expecting. We’ve earnt our 5 stars on Trustpilot by providing customers with a consistently high quality and personal service, an average call pick-up time of 20 seconds, no bots and no mid-contract price hikes, so we know it’s possible for the industry to do so much better,” he added.

Proportion of broadband customers who experienced certain problems

Issue Overall proportion of customers who’d experienced problem
Frequent connection drop outs 19%
Very slow speeds 17%
Connection slow to download or upload files 15%
Problems with router 14%
Left without connection for more than hour 14%
Slow or disrupted streaming (music or video) 12%
Left without connection for more than a day 8%

Proportion of broadband customers by provider who had not experienced any performance issue 

Proportion of customers that hadn’t experienced any performance issue
Hyperoptic 52%
Shell Energy Broadband 52%
Utility Warehouse 50%
BT 49%
Plusnet 47%
Vodafone 46%
Now 44%
Zen Internet 42%
TalkTalk 40%
EE 37%
Virgin Media 35%
Sky 32%

Note: Total percentages include a small proportion of respondents



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