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Broadband satisfaction levels fall as Brits stream more content

Massive growth in data use as more people stream media content into their homes may be contributing to increased dissatisfaction with broadband services, says Ofcom

The ever-increasing use of streaming and online catch-up services to watch TV programmes appears to be contributing to a small but marked decrease in general satisfaction with residential broadband services in the UK, according to Ofcom’s annual Communications market report (CMR), which has just been released.

Ofcom’s report found that although people were still watching plenty of live broadcast television in the traditional way, 79% of UK adults were using services such as the BBC iPlayer or Netflix to “binge-watch” multiple episodes of TV shows, with this trend markedly more pronounced among teenagers and young adults. The average data use per residential broadband connection grew by 36% to 132GB by June 2016.

This was reflected in how satisfied consumers said they were with the overall quality of their broadband service, with those saying they were very satisfied down to 39% at the end of June 2017 from 43% at the end of June 2016, and those saying they were either very or fairly satisfied fell from 87% to 84% over the same period.

“I would say that the increasing use of broadband services for watching TV is putting greater demand on the network,” said Ian Macrae, Ofcom director of market intelligence. “So whereas people might have been satisfied a year or so ago, as expectations rise, people are more likely to be dissatisfied.”

The total number of fixed broadband connections had increased by 2.2% to 25.3 million at the end of 2016, said Ofcom, while the proportion that are superfast grew by 6% to 44% over the same period. Note that this figure is higher than that claimed by the government because Westminster defines superfast as 24Mbps, while Ofcom defines it as 30Mbps.

The report also found that in 2016, 8% of UK homes received an average broadband speed of 100Mbps or above – classed as ultrafast – but 29% of home connections were still receiving under 10Mbps, although this is partly due to lack of take-up, as availability of faster services is known to be much higher.

“Clearly, what we see is people using the internet in new and different ways and the take-up of superfast broadband suggests that people do want access to faster speeds,” said Ofcom consumer group director Lindsey Fussell.

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The number of fibre broadband connections, both fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), grew by 21% to 6.7 million in 2016, while cable broadband connections grew by 4.8% to 4.9 million and standard asymmetric digital subscriber lines (ADSL) fell by 6.2% to 13.6 million. For the first time, Ofcom also counted the number of satellite broadband connections in the UK, and found about 80,000 subscribers to such services.

The growing take-up of superfast services could also be quantified by a 9.5% increase observed in the average price of a residential fixed broadband connection to £20.45 last year, while the average household spend on telecoms as a whole – including mobile and landlines – rose by 80p in real terms to £85.26 during 2016.

By market share, BT grew by 5% to 37% in 2016, largely thanks to the addition of EE’s fixed broadband customer base. Sky and Virgin Media increased their share by 1% each to 24% and 20%, respectively, but TalkTalk declined by 1% to 12%. All other service providers, including altnets, accounted for the remaining 8% of the broadband market.

Selfie nation

The report also revealed insight into Brits’ use of social media. While Facebook was by far and away the most used social platform – one-third of those surveyed said they had checked their profiles within the last 10 minutes – huge growth was seen on Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.

The data shows that consumers are becoming much savvier about what they share online, particularly when it comes to pictures of themselves. The majority understand that uploaded photos are hard to expunge from the internet because they can easily be shared or saved by someone else. This may partly account for the spiking popularity of more ephemeral social media services such as Snapchat, where shared media disappears from the standard user interface after a few seconds.

When it came to sharing photos of their friends and family, seven in 10 people said they would not share photos of other people without permission, and 75% said personal images should be shared only with friends or followers. Some 62% reported having “untagged” themselves from photos posted by somebody else.

As well as carefully managing their privacy settings, a lot of people were paying great attention to the image they project, Ofcom found. Of those who did share selfies online, 70% said it was important to look their best in photos, and more than half said they felt pressure to look good online, a view that was significantly higher among young women.

“We found that six selfies are taken on average before one is chosen to post online,” said McCrae. “Younger people tend to take more, 10% say they take between 11 and 15 photos, 7% take between 16 and 20. A total of 27% do agree that what they share makes their life look more interesting than it is, and three-quarters say they consider other people’s photos may offer a rose-tinted view.”

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