‘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.”
Fibre is the best technology to bring broadband to rural areas – but it is also the most expensive, says Daniel Heery.
I recently found myself driving to the heart of Northumberland on a cold bright Spring day to attend a broadband suppliers event at Wingates Institute, kindly organised by Northumberland County Council’s broadband team. The objective of the meeting was to bring together potential suppliers of solutions with members of the community around Nunnykirk, Hollinghill and Rothley parishes so both sides could get a better understanding of the issues of getting superfast broadband into the area. The layout of BT’s network in the area means it is too technically and financially challenging to address 90 homes and farms in this area. The village hall was busy, 6 suppliers, 10 residents, local landowners, Northumbrian Water and council staff.
The event started with presentations from the County Councillor and iNorthumberland team, setting out the history of broadband in the area and how the County Council could help. Louise, a staunch campaigner for better broadband in the area, made an impassioned speech covering her travails over the last 10 years. Locals do not have the time to go back and forth to Wingates Institute to fill out government forms, update their websites and download e-mails. Schoolchildren travelling 2-3 miles to complete their myMaths homework impacts on their education and family life.
This contrasts with Newcastle, where you are only a few minutes’ walk from a coffee shop, pub or library with free WiFi. Suppliers were cautious – I asked about the potential that BT could decide to upgrade their system after another supplier had invested in a new broadband network? There was a feeling that BT would be glad to see someone else come in and the council could de-scope the area from BT’s plan.
Progress was being made – the school had secured a 4G service costing ?250/month. There was a commitment from BT to deliver a fibre service by the end of the year to part of the area. These new services were welcomed by some of the people in the hall but undermined the viability for an alternative solution which would reach Louise and her neighbours. The 4G upgrade to the local mast was now providing a service to people who do a bit of streaming, browsing and e-mails. Taking these basic customers out of the market leaves about 30 homes that would be interested in a fixed line broadband service.
This is where the wheels come off a commercial solution – the cost of building the network and delivering a high capacity broadband feed has high fixed up front costs without a guarantee of future revenue. Most of the suppliers were offering a fixed wireless solution that can do the job in the medium term. Louise had already run a small community wireless network for several years for a group of houses and knew the limitations.
Running fibre optic cables to all the homes could cost ?250K, but this would come down if locals helped lay the cables. Parishes and other notspots around the country face a number of key issues:
New developments like 4G and BT’s Community fibre are eating into the potential customers required to make a good business case for an alternative operator. Louise has been looking for a solution for the past 10 years – there is no shortage of technologies, but its hard to reach a consensus with the wider community and the council on a particular solution.
This is a risky bet – but it should be noted that plenty of other communities have pressed on and are benefiting from a solution. How to progress? I think the best technology bet is fibre – its futureproof and has the lowest operating costs BUT it is also the most expensive.
Daniel Heery is chief executive of Cybermoor, a co-operative based in Alston Moor, Cumbria, providing innovative digital services to rural areas.
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