As the Covid pandemic broke, the worst fear of the UK’s network providers was that their infrastructures would struggle to deal with the unprecedented added demand on their infrastructures as homes became a centre of work and education as well as leisure, but even though the nets coped well in the main, research has now shown that homes suffered vastly increased outages.
Data from comparison and switching service Uswitch.com has revealed that nearly 15 million UK consumers have suffered broadband outages lasting three hours or more in the past year – three times higher than the previous 12 months. Moreover, the average home affected by broadband outages was left offline for more than two days over the course of 12 months.
Such issues have significant consequences for the UK economy. Uswitch.com calculated that with millions of people relying on home broadband connections to do their job, the UK lost 16 million working days in the past year to outages. Broadband issues are estimated to have cost the economy almost £5bn in lost work time.
Yet even though they suffered a clear inconvenience, only two-fifths of customers who experienced outages complained to their provider about the issue. More than a third (37%) of frustrated broadband users did, though, say they were tempted to switch broadband providers because of the issue.
In the study, residents of Belfast suffered the shortest amount of downtime, with the city reporting only 11 hours of downtime in 12 months. Edinburgh was found to be the UK’s outage capital, with residents suffering the longest time without broadband per person and losing nine million hours of broadband over the year.
Uswitch.com noted that that was a major turnaround from last year’s research, which found that the Scottish capital experienced some of the fewest outages in the UK. Bristol emerged as England’s outage hotspot, with an average downtime of 109.3 hours, almost 13 hours more than England’s second worst city, Leeds. Bristol was also identified as a clear outage leader in the previous year’s study.
One consequence of being offline for so long was that more than a third of people (36%) turned to their mobile data when an outage struck, with almost two-thirds of those (63%) burning through their whole monthly data allowance.
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This reflected a February 2021 study from mobile operator O2, which found that as the UK retuned to working and learning under one roof after the post-Christmas lockdown, connectivity issues were leading to people relying on their mobile data more than ever to stay online during the day.
On 5 January, the UK government launched its Get help with technology programme, aiming to increase data allowances on mobile devices to support disadvantaged children and expanding temporarily allowances for mobile phone users on certain networks so that children and young people can access remote education while their face-to-face education is disrupted.
Commenting on the findings and the consequences, Ernest Doku, broadband expert at Uswitch.com, said: “Outages have affected the country like never before over the past 12 months… This report covers the first full year of lockdown measures, in which millions of home-workers and home-schoolers have experienced internet outages when they would usually have been at their workplaces or in school. When you’re trying to get things done, not being able to stay connected can be infuriating, and made worse when a provider fails to communicate with their customers properly.”
In a potential call to action for broadband users, Uswitch.com advised users that if their connection was down for more than two days they could be entitled to compensation of just over £8 a day. It added that most of the UK’s big broadband providers are signed up to the auto-compensation scheme from UK communications regulator Ofcom. These rules were relaxed during the pandemic as providers focused on keeping the country running, but are up and running again.