Check broadband firms for cheaper, faster deals

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Who calls the shots, billpayers or utility companies? Burdened with the soaring cost of living and weighed down by outgoings, consumers all too often forget they have great collective power. Anyone who has ever tried voting with their feet and switching providers will know this is one of the best ways to make themselves heard.

Now seen as the fourth utility, the broadband industry is just the same as the energy market – competition fuels the market. Except there’s one major difference: when you’re coming to the end of your broadband contract, don’t expect a reminder. There’ll be no phone call, no letter, and no email.

So if you don’t know what time of year you can switch broadband providers, don’t 
expect to be told.

This means the broadband industry is lagging behind. Energy suppliers already issue reminder letters, and mobile phone networks call about upgrades when contract end dates are looming. Broadband providers don’t do either.

What this means is, inevitably, we forget to switch. Collectively, Brits are throwing £1.1 billion down the drain each year by being unwittingly loyal. Almost half of us (46 per cent) have never switched to a new broadband provider, and those of us that don’t make the move lose out on an average saving of £120 per year – because sticking with the same provider after your contract ends rarely pays.

We’re not lazy and so rich that we can afford to waste £120 per year. We’re all busy, and thinking about when our broadband contract ends isn’t likely to be at the top of our lists.

But we still want to know: eight in ten Brits say they want information about when their broadband contracts end to be communicated more clearly.

That’s why we’ve launched a campaign to ensure broadband providers send out reminders before contracts end – we could all do with a timely reminder.

Why is this important? First of all, it can help save us cash. If we knew when to switch we could make the most of low-cost introductory deals designed to lure new customers.

The five biggest broadband providers all offer these low-cost introductory deals, where prices are slashed by around half. Looking at the top three deals across each of those providers right now, the average introductory price is £7.69 per month, more than doubling to £15.58 after that, with the introductory period lasting an average 7.4 months.

But it’s not just about the money. Anyone not satisfied with their broadband speeds and those getting patchy coverage can and must switch to better suit their needs.

According to the results of consumer tests carried out using uSwitch.com’s online speed testing tool, Glasgow shows some of the biggest discrepancies in download speeds in the entire country – a staggering 85 per cent between the fastest and slowest postcode areas.

Those who have never switched to another provider will probably be unaware they could be getting much faster speeds. Almost two-thirds of UK households now have access to super-fast broadband but, according to a recent survey, 47 per cent reckon it’s still not available, while 32 per cent say they don’t know.

Our recent research shows that 58 per cent of faster fibre broadband customers and 32 per cent of copper customers exceed their download limits. Heavy broadband users will pay through the nose for out-of-contract data, so it’s essential to get the right deal for your amount of usage. A good time to re-evaluate your usage is when your contract end date is looming.

So we at uSwitch are calling for this simple change to be made. We want broadband contract end dates to be communicated by email and letter, and flagged up on online accounts..

This will encourage competition in the market and make broadband providers more eager to please, which can only be good news for consumers.

• Marie-Louise Abretti is broadband expert for consumer price-comparison website uSwitch.com

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