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Major UK broadband providers not up to speed during pandemic

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Fibre broadband engineers from Openreach, the infrastructure arm of BT work on a fibre cable junction in central London. (Photo by Nick Ansell/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Big Four broadband providers – BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – supply nine in ten UK households. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Images via Getty Images

Some of Britain’s largest broadband providers have been letting down their customers on connection reliability, internet speeds and value for money during the pandemic.

That is according to Which?’s annual customer satisfaction survey, which revealed that seven in 10 (69%) respondents said they suffered an issue with their connection in the past 12 months – a substantial increase on last year’s survey.

The most common problems experienced during the COVID health crisis were very low speeds and more frequent dropouts, compared to before the pandemic began.

Almost half of the 4,478 adult respondents (48%) said they had been left without a connection for more than a day, while around four in 10 (44%) reported that they had been left without internet for more than an hour.

However, it comes as a record number of people have relied on their internet connection to work remotely, homeschool and keep in touch with family and friends, as lockdown restrictions force us to stay at home.

The annual survey showed that 71% people use their connection more since the outbreak of the pandemic, with nearly two thirds of those saying their use has increased substantially.

Which? said: “The findings reflect the likelihood that an increased reliance on broadband over the past year means customers are more likely to notice – and be frustrated by – any connection issues.”

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The Big Four broadband providers – BT (BT-A.L), Sky, TalkTalk (TALK.L) and Virgin Media – supply nine in ten UK households.

Virgin Media has its own cable network in parts of the country, which allows it to offer some of the fastest broadband speeds, however, its customers gave it poor ratings for connection reliability.

One in three Virgin Media customers said they experienced a connection outage lasting at least an hour in the past year, and almost a quarter said their connection was slow to upload or download.

Customers were also less likely to be satisfied with their customer service, ease of setup and value for money, meaning Virgin received a low overall customer score of just 53%, second from bottom in Which’s satisfaction rankings.

TalkTalk and Sky fared similarly, with customer scores of 54% for both providers. While TalkTalk scored fairly well for value for money, it had the highest proportion of customers who would not recommend their provider to others.

Sky rated poorly for value for money on the other hand. A quarter of Sky customers experienced frequent dropouts despite paying more for their service than the average broadband customer.

READ MORE: Sky to hike UK prices by up to £72 a year

It also received low scores for connection speed, connection reliability and ease of setup and dropped three places in this year’s survey. The Which survey revealed Sky to be the joint worst provider, along with Utility Warehouse, for very slow speeds, which affected three in 10 (29%) customers.

BT earned the highest score of the Big Four providers (57%) but still only managed eighth place overall – just one place up from its ranking last year. It scored middling ratings across the board apart from value for money, which scored poorly.

More than half of BT’s customers had never been with another provider, and the majority admitted that they were not planning to switch.

Which? said: “Our results show that out-of-contract BT customers should consider making a move as they are likely to find an alternative that is both cheaper and more reliable.”

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The survey also found customers who upgraded to fibre broadband often felt the benefits. Out of the respondents who had fibre broadband, 63% noticed faster speeds after switching and 45% noticed fewer connection dropouts.

The UK government has a target for at least 85% of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.

Natalie Hitchins, Which?’s head of home products and services, said: “With so many people at home relying on their internet during the pandemic, a good connection has never been more important – but we found some of the UK’s biggest suppliers are not up to speed.

“Broadband providers must up their game and meet the challenge of providing fast, reliable connections and good customer service for millions of customers whose needs and expectations have risen over the last year.

“The industry and government must also work together to ensure more people have the chance to switch to faster and more reliable gigabit-capable broadband services in the years to come - or risk undermining the UK’s goal of becoming a world leader in connectivity.”

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