‘Which?’ consumer research suggests 12.5m million UK households are frustrated by their broadband service.
In parts of County Durham1 and Northumberland2 slow ‘broadband’ is something you just seem to have to live with, although providers have been criticised for shouting about speeds which customers simply do not get. A survey of more than 2,000 households from Which? found 46% said they were left frustrated by broadband3 problems. Based on the UK population, this equates to around 12.5 million households. Its research found one in four customers who had connection problems were forced to ditch their online activities for the day, with a fifth saying they’ve taken a financial hit due to poor internet speeds.
One in three had been prevented from making online banking transactions quickly due to lagging connections.
here4. Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home services, said: “With millions of us frustrated by bad broadband and stopped from doing the simplest of online tasks, we have launched a new, free tool to help people improve their connection.
“There is nothing more annoying than your internet cutting out when you’re streaming your favourite programme, or when you’ve spent ages filling your online shopping basket but your connection is too slow to get you to the checkout.
“Far too many people are experiencing problems with their broadband across the country and we want to help people to fix it.”
How to improve your speed
- Avoid telephone extension cables: always plug your router into your master phone socket instead.
- Use a microfilter: ensure every phone in the house uses a microfilter, as this will prevent interference from connected phones from disrupting your broadband.
- Move your router: the more objects between your router and your device, the worse your speeds will be, so try to place it in a central location, as high up in the room as possible.
- Check for viruses: viruses will use your connection to download and upload data from your PC, which is not only bad news for your finances, but will also play havoc with your connection speeds.
- Change the channel: the more wireless networks you have in range (such as from your neighbours), the more interference your own connection will face. By changing the channel of your router from its default setting, you may be able to boost your speeds.
Should I switch?
If the internet speeds you get are no where near what was sold to you, then you may be able to get out of your contract without paying a penalty. Ofcom offers a get-out clause to broadband customers if their provider does not deliver an “acceptable level of service”.
Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable.co.uk, said: “Just as consumers are required to meet monthly payments, providers are obliged to deliver the service we pay for – failure to do this is a breach of contract and may mean you can vote with your feet without fear of cancellation fees.”
Broadband internet is available in all hamlets, villages and outposts across Pennsylvania — at least according to state standards. Compared to the national definition, the Keystone State’s minimum connection speed is lagging. The Federal Communications Commission redefined broadband in 2015 as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. That’s 1,500 percent faster for downloads and 2,200 percent faster for uploads compared to Pennsylvania’s 1.54/.128 minimum split set by a 2004 law.
Advances in internet technology and resulting demands for greater bandwidth outpace the benchmarks called for 13 years ago. A 5 Mbps download speed is recommended by Netflix to stream in high-definition. Demand only grows with other users in a home or business simultaneously using social media, browsing web pages or streaming video to a second device. Discussions in Harrisburg are ongoing toward raising the standards. The House Consumer Affairs Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on the issue, and a representative from Western Pennsylvania is readying legislation to boost speeds.
“When I’m down there (Harrisburg) talking about autonomous cars this week, it’s amazing to me we’re still talking about broadband,” said state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, of Sunbury.
The telecommunications industry is reluctant to build new infrastructure serving rural areas, with low population limiting returns on the investment. Jeanne Shearer, vice president, state government affairs, Windstream Communications, testified during the hearing new fiber optic lines cost between $25,000 and $50,000 a mile. Frank Buzydlowski, director, state government relations, Verizon, told legislators the company invested $16 billion in private capital to comply with standards.
Thomas Bailey, director, state regulatory and legislative affairs, CenturyLink, said high speeds in rural areas mean more fiber cable run “further into the field,” closer to customer locations.
“In most cases placing or extending fiber to increase broadband speeds is not economical because of its high cost, the low household density in rural areas and the fact that there is no guarantee customers will buy the service,” Bailey testified. Verizon North LLC of Philadelphia declined $23 million in federal funds to build out its infrastructure to rural areas. The speed requirement under the Connect America Fund would have been 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. The funds are now subject to competitive bidding, with Sen. Bob Casey imploring to keep the money allocated for Pennsylvania.
As it stands, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission says all companies bound by current law report 100 percent coverage. By federal standards, 6 percent of the state lacks access to high-speed internet. The gap widens in the Valley where 45 percent of Snyder County residents lack access; Montour County, 32 percent; Union County, 21 percent; Northumberland County, 20 percent.
Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary, Pennsylvania PUC, noted how online habits evolved since 2004. There were no iPads or Facebook. Streaming video services were a concept only. Websites have become data-rich and video-driven, he said.
“It’s a whole different concept of what the internet was,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. The commission hasn’t taken a position on potential changes to state standards. If and when legislation is introduced, PA PUC will weigh in if asked, he said.
“Changing the statute is something that requires legislation. It’s not something the PUC can do unilaterally,” he said.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-50, represents 650 square miles of largely rural communities in western Pennsylvania. She intends to reintroduce a bill this year, as soon as next month, requiring minimum standards of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps — equal to the federal government’s 10/1 reduced split for its rural infrastructure subsidy program, meant to entice telecom companies to build high-speed service in unserved areas.
Should the federal standard rise, Snyder said her proposal is for Pennsylvania to match it. Snyder said high-speed internet is an essential utility in modern times, as much so as roadways and water service. Constituents in Snyder’s district say current service makes it impossible for some to complete homework online, participate in web-based college courses or conduct business.
“I recognize the investments for companies but let’s be real. The testimony we heard yesterday is that telecommunications is the largest industry in Pennsylvania. They’re booming. Yeah, it’s an investment, and it’s an investment we need,” Snyder said.
Snyder is open to incentives to entice companies to invest in rural areas. Culver agreed a balance of burden is needed for companies and customers. Email
iNorthumberland today announced that 3,200 more homes and businesses will get access to superfast broadband thanks to a further multimillion-pound investment in the programme. The partnership between Northumberland County Council and BT has already made fibre broadband available to around 54,500 premises across the county. A further ?6.4million will be invested in addition to the ?23million fund earmarked for the programme so far.
This includes ?4.4million via BT thanks to efficiencies in the first phase of the roll-out and a high take-up of the fibre broadband technology by local households and businesses. This, along with a further ?1million investment from Northumberland County Council and ?1million from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, will extend the roll-out even further. More than 40 per cent of Northumberland households and businesses able to upgrade to the new technology have already chosen to do so – a figure which is among the highest levels of take-up in the UK.
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the success of the broadband roll-out so far through our iNorthumberland programme and this investment will take us even further. “We will not rest on our laurels, however, and will continue to work hard to find solutions for the small number of communities which still have difficulties with connectivity and are not earmarked for an upgrade through this work. We will continue pushing to find further funding as well as technological solutions for the most hard-to-reach areas.”
Locations expected to be included in the extended roll-out include Alwinton, Guyzance, Boulmer, Chillingham, Doxford, Woodhorn, Tritlington, Weldon Bridge, Kirkley, Wark, Mindrum, Akeld, Cheswick and Twizell. According to the independent thinkbroadband.com website, more than 90 per cent of the county’s premises can now get a broadband speed of 24Mbps or above. Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) is the main technology being rolled out in Northumberland, which typically offers download speeds of up to 80Mbps, but there are more than 2,300 premises which can access ultrafast speeds using fibre to the premises (FTTP).
Simon Roberson, BT’s North East regional partnership director, said: “More than 152,000 homes and businesses in Northumberland can now access fibre broadband thanks to iNorthumberland and BT’s own commercial roll-out. “The second phase of the iNorthumberland programme continues at pace and now that an extension has been agreed, it makes us more determined than ever to improve broadband speeds as widely as possible across the county. “BT’s ambition is to never say no to any community that wants superfast broadband.
We have launched a Community Fibre Partnerships programme where we work with a local group not covered by an existing fibre upgrade plan – this could be the residents of a rural village or a block of flats in a town centre or even a group of business owners in an industrial park – to find a solution to bring fibre to their area.
“We have already signed agreements with more than 200 communities and organisations to bring fibre broadband to some of the UK’s most challenging areas and are keen to have to have conversations with other communities who might benefit from this approach.”