HIGHER prices and poor service have triggered the first fall in customer satisfaction in the broadband market for three years, a new survey has revealed.
The poll, by website uSwitch.com, shows that just over two- thirds of broadband customers are satisfied with the speed of the service they get from their internet provider, even though broadband is becoming faster.
Based on responses from 7,500 users, the report reveals that, while average speeds have risen 30 per cent over the past year, this has been accompanied by a 5 per cent rise in bills and a 2 per cent drop in service levels.
Low-cost provider Plusnet was rated best overall, with 90 per cent of customers saying they were satisfied with the service they obtained. AOL, one of the first providers in the UK, was rated worst. The firm was taken over by Talk Talk five years ago but still operates separately.
"Mis-selling" - where consumers are not made aware of exactly what they are paying for - and mistakes in billing left just six out of ten customers satisfied overall with service. "With greater competition and faster speeds than ever before, the U-turn in broadband satisfaction is alarming," said Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com.
"People have taken broadband to the next level and are now enjoying content-rich applications such as YouTube and BBC iPlayer. But their experience will be seriously affected if the speed they need - and believe they should be getting - isn't the one they experience. Broadband that doesn't deliver is incredibly frustrating.
"Plusnet has shown that the simple formula of a reliable connection, good value and excellent customer service equals satisfied customers. Its rivals should sit up and take note of this - it's not rocket science.
"In the meantime, it's more important than ever for customers to look at the whole picture when they are choosing their service, and think about what's important to them.
"If the companies at the bottom of the table don't try to address their failings, they could well see their customers vote with their feet."
The survey also shows that the average annual broadband bill has climbed 5 per cent this year to 176, up from 167 in 2010 - mainly due to the rise in VAT.
The Scottish Government says that 99 per cent of the population now has access to at least basic broadband.But the Digital Scotland report, published last year by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, showed Scotland had the lowest percentage of households with high-speed internet in the UK, at 61 per cent, compared with 73 per cent in England.
A recent report by regulator Ofcom showed that the average broadband speed is still less than half the speed advertised by some internet service providers.
Polly Purvis, executive director of umbrella IT body Scotland IS, said: "Given our geography in Scotland and that broadband is increasingly being considered as a utility, this is a vital issue.
"It is worrying to see the reduction in consumer satisfaction across the board, particularly at a time when considerable investment is being made by the industry to deliver next generation broadband."
l Charges for broadband use are set to fall after Ofcom unveiled plans to cut the amount the company that owns the tele-coms infrastructure can charge providers. The watchdog is to launch a consultation on wholesale charges for telephone and broadband services delivered to homes and businesses over the copper network - which is operated by BT subsidiary Openreach.