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Big four make small impression in Which? UK broadband survey

As remote working became the default during the UK lockdown, the importance of dependable and enterprise-acceptable home broadband was never more crucial, but Which? shows that the country’s largest providers have proved a let-down regarding connection reliability, internet speeds and value for money

As the first UK lockdown approaches its first anniversary, it’s no exaggeration to say that the UK economy had to lean heavily on the nation’s home broadband network to stay in business.

But a year on, a study from Which? has warned that broadband providers must up their game and meet the challenge of providing fast, reliable connections and good customer service for millions.

The Which? Best and worst broadband providers 2021 report assessed all the capabilities of the UK’s major providers, giving a breakdown of how each provider is rated for customer service, value for money, connection speed and technical support. The report was based on a survey of 4,478 Which? members about their broadband in January 2021, and included individual overviews of each provider, offering insight on the deals they offer as well as the levels of complaints about them.

The study showed that the services delivered by the large providers – namely BT (including its subsidiaries, EE and PlusNet), Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, which collectively supply around nine-tenths of UK households – have fallen short in a number of ways, struggling when it came to service, support and value.

Overall, the survey found that seven in 10 people had used their connection more since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with nearly two-thirds saying their use increased substantially.

However, the volume of issues users experienced with their broadband provider also increased over the past year. As many as seven-tenths of respondents said that they had experienced an issue with their connection in the past 12 months, which is a substantial increase on the previous year’s survey.

Very low speeds and frequent dropouts were the most common problems experienced more often during the pandemic. Half of respondents also reported that they had been left without a connection for more than a day, while around two-fifths said they had been left without internet for more than an hour.

Looking at the individual companies, the big four all managed scores that Which? said were mediocre at best as regards to customer satisfaction. BT Broadband earned the highest customer score of the big four broadband providers, but still only managed joint eighth place out of 14.

More than half of BT’s customers had never been with another provider and the majority weren’t planning to switch, and so Which? observed that its results show that out-of-contract BT customers should consider making a move and that customers were likely able to find a cheaper and more reliable alternative.

Sky Broadband was rated poorly for value for money, attributed by Which? to a quarter of Sky customers experiencing frequent dropouts despite paying more for their service than the average broadband customer. Moreover, more than a quarter of Sky customers said the price of their deal had increased in the past year.

Meanwhile, TalkTalk fared similarly to Sky, sharing joint 11th place. While TalkTalk scored fairly well for value for money, it had the highest proportion of customers who wouldn’t recommend their provider to others.

While Virgin Media had its own cable network, allowing it to offer faster speeds than its rivals, its customers gave it poor ratings for connection reliability. A third of Virgin Media customers said that 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.

Zen Internet finished top of the latest Which? broadband survey of the UK’s internet service providers, scoring 70% overall. Zen was 8% clear of the next nearest provider, with the big four lagging behind with percentages in the 50s.

Commenting on the research, Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said that 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 past year.

“The industry and government must 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,” she said.

Zen Internet CEO Paul Stobart, added: “In an incredibly tough year for everyone, having reliable broadband has become more important than ever. It has enabled people to stay in touch with loved ones, stream and download information and entertainment, work as productively as possible, and embrace the challenges of home schooling.

“Given broadband’s importance, it’s vital that people can rely on their provider to deliver fast and reliable connectivity. We’re particularly delighted that Zen has once again performed well in the Which? broadband consumer survey, being recognised for the tireless efforts we are making to deliver the very best service to our customers after what has been a particularly demanding year for our industry.”

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