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Big broadband firms ‘mediocre at best’ ahead of inflation-busting price rises

The biggest broadband firms are providing a service that is “mediocre at best” as consumers brace themselves for inflation-busting price increases.

TalkTalk has been rated the worst major broadband provider, losing out to smaller firms such as Zen, in an annual satisfaction survey of almost 4,000 customers by Which?

The watchdog found that most of the biggest firms offer little more than unreliable connections, “appalling” customer service and “barely there” technical support despite announcing monthly bill increases of at least 14% from next month.

TalkTalk received a score of 51%, with users giving it the lowest possible ratings for technical support, customer service and speed.

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The firm is set to increase its broadband prices by 14.2% from April 1.

Virgin Media came 10th in the ranking with 54%, scoring poorly for customer service and technical support.

Virgin’s monthly costs will go up by an average of 13.8% in April.

Sky came eighth with a score of 56%, with its customers the most likely to have experienced an issue with their connection in the past year.

Its price increase of 8.1% comes into force on Saturday, although its customers are free to switch without penalty.

BT came fifth with 59%, making it the best of the “big four”, but was held back by inadequate customer service and poor value for money, the survey found.

The company’s 14.4% mid-contract price increase comes into effect on March 31.

Zen achieved the highest rating for the eighth year in a row, scoring 81%.

Hyperoptic (65%) and Utility Warehouse (63%) came second and third and, like Zen, do not increase prices mid-contract.

Providers often link their annual price rises to January’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the Retail Price Index (RPI), which were 10.5% and 13.4% respectively – an amount which would have been unforeseeable for customers signing up to their contract 18 or 24 months ago.

The current system forces millions of customers to choose between paying more each month or exorbitant exit fees, which can exceed £200.

Industry watchdog Ofcom is currently investigating whether inflation-linked, mid-contract price rises give customers sufficient certainty and clarity when signing up to new contracts.

The outcome will be published later this year.

However it is estimated that millions of customers are outside the minimum term of their contract, meaning they are free to leave their provider at any time.

Which? urged them to do so “and haggle” before the end of the month to avoid the increases.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “It’s unacceptable that the major broadband firms are hiking prices for their mediocre services by such huge sums during this unrelenting cost-of-living crisis.

“Which? is calling for all providers to allow customers to exit their contracts penalty-free if the price goes up and to cancel 2023 hikes outright for financially vulnerable consumers.

“With just days to go until inflation-busting price hikes take effect, customers who are out of contract should take action now to switch away, cut costs and avoid paying a lot more for their current service.”

A TalkTalk spokesman said: “We’re disappointed by Which?’s approach to research data and would urge them to use more considered and representative evidence.

“These findings are counter to TalkTalk’s recent encouraging trends in customer experience, following significant investment and improvements in customer service in recent months. We’re also seeing our lowest ever levels of customers leaving us.”

A BT Consumer spokesman said: “We understand that price rises are never wanted nor welcomed, but recognise them as a necessary thing to do given the rising costs our business faces.

“With the average price increase just above £1 per week, and over three million of our customers exempt from the rise, we’re also doing all we can to ensure our services are accessible to the widest group of customers possible through our market leading social tariffs.”