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Customers ‘let down’ by major broadband providers during pandemic

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Several of the UK’s major broadband providers have not been up to speed during pandemic, according to Which?’s annual customer satisfaction survey.

Customers have been let down on connection reliability, internet speeds and value for money, according to the survey.

In Which?’s annual report, seven in 10 people (71%) said they had used their broadband connection more since the outbreak of the pandemic, with nearly two thirds of those saying their use had increased substantially.

However, the volume of issues consumers experience with their broadband provider has also increased over the past year. Seven in 10 (69%) respondents said they had experienced an issue with their connection in the past 12 months – a substantial increase on last year’s survey.

Very low speeds (59%) and frequent dropouts (53%) were the most common problems experienced more often during the pandemic, compared to before the pandemic.

Almost half of respondents (48%) reported they had been left without a connection for more than a day and about four in 10 (44%) said they had been left without internet for more than an hour.

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.

Big players ‘left customers disappointed’

BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media supply broadband to nine in 10 households, but Which? found all four companies have come in for significant criticism from customers.

Virgin Media has its own cable network in parts of the UK, which allows it to offer some of the fastest broadband speeds. Yet its customers gave it poor ratings for connection reliability. One in three Virgin Media customers said they had 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.

Overall, Virgin received a low overall customer score of just 53%, putting it second from bottom in Which’s satisfaction rankings.

TalkTalk and Sky fared similarly, with customer scores of 54%. 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. A quarter of Sky customers experienced frequent dropouts despite paying more for their service than the average broadband customer. To add insult to injury, more than a quarter of Sky customers said the price of their deal had increased in the past year.

Sky 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 also 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 (57%) of the big four providers 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.

Only John Lewis scored lower (47%) than the big four, with low ratings for connection speed, connection reliability and ease of setup.

The best providers

At the other end of the scale, Zen Internet achieved the highest customer score of 70% and was the highest ranked broadband provider for the second year in a row (scoring 84% in 2020).

Zen achieved high scores across the board and despite not offering the cheapest tariffs, 85% said they would recommend it to a friend.

The Which? survey also found customers who upgraded to fibre broadband often felt the benefits. Of the nearly 3,000 respondents who had fibre broadband, 63% noticed faster speeds after switching and 45% noticed fewer connection dropouts.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? 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.”