We Britons love to whinge about poor service, and broadband provision is no exception. But with competition fierce, it's easy to find a better ISP.
Broadband is often marketed as one of those household utilities that we think about only when it goes wrong, like electricity or the water supply. The trouble is that many people are thinking about broadband rather a lot, inspiring them to respond to customer satisfaction surveys - such as the one we've used in this month's issue.
Unless you live in a remote corner of Britain, you can get a fast connection if you want one. A speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second) has become the bare minimum for most people - five years ago, when 512Kbps was regarded as superfast, that would have seemed astonishing. And with competitively priced packages advertised on TV, in newspapers and online, nobody can be in the dark about how to get a better deal.
Why then, is broadband such a source of aggravation? Ofcom received more than 50,000 complaints about ISPs last year, which suggests home surfing isn't the painless experience those adverts tell us it is.
Broadband customers vented their fury at the standard of service they received and alleged that ISPs mis-sold broadband packages by promising ‘up to 8Mbps' in the knowledge that few would achieve anywhere near that. They also complained about the customer support they received when connections went belly-up, and said some offers were so attractive that ISPs couldn't keep up with demand. TalkTalk's £21-per-month deal for high-speed broadband plus unlimited free calls to landlines was a breakthrough in pricing, but soon turned into a PR blunder when the operator kept customers waiting for three months before delivering.
Satisfaction levels haven't been helped by the heavier demands we place on ISPs now. In the past heavy broadband use meant browsing to graphic-intensive web pages and downloading the odd song, but now many of us spend hours on end looking at YouTube videos. This has meant that many experience slower connections at certain times of the day as everyone fights for limited bandwidth.
Time to shop around?
What with all this dissatisfaction, you'd think people would be constantly chopping and changing ISP to find one that will keep them happy. But that isn't entirely the case. Our survey found that users are more willing than previously to switch ISP, but they're still generally reluctant to shop around. Many people take a ‘better the devil you know' approach.
Historically, switching suppliers has been a headache in itself. If you were a subscriber to an ADSL service, getting hold of your MAC code in order to sign up to a rival service could be a long, drawn-out process - and some people were left web-less for a couple of weeks. However, this year Ofcom introduced measures to speed things up. So if the results of our survey encourage you to dump your existing supplier in favour of one of our winners, you should be able to do so quickly.
We've handed out awards in a number of categories to help your decision-making process. Whatever you regard as the most important aspect of broadband delivery - customer service, reliability or price - we've got it covered. So, if you're not happy with your ISP, grab a copy of our August issue to find out which alternative supplier will better serve your needs.