Despite the hassle of switching broadband suppliers and fears of delays, it can still be worth it, says
The boom in high-speed Internet has driven down the price of many broadband
services - but few users are switching providers. Four in ten British households
now have broadband connected to their home computers but research shows only
26 per cent have swapped providers since having it installed.
Fear of frustrating delays and time-consuming red tape is behind consumer apathy, according to a survey by price comparison website moneysupermarket.com Yet some users could save £30 to £100 a year by switching to a different supplier and being flexible with extra offers and features. An eight-megabit (8Mb) speed service with a six-gigabyte (6GB) downloading cap with BT Total Broadband Option 2, for example, costs £14.99 for the first three months, and then £22.99 per month thereafter. This would cost £251.88 over 12 months but it comes with free connection and a free wireless BT Home Hub.
The same speed service but with a much lower 2GB cap from EFH Broadband would cost £14.99 per month, or £179.88 per year, and the contract is for one month only. The saving over a year would be £72 but is worth making only if you can cope with the download restrictions. A similar service but with a 15GB package from the same company would cost £18.99, or £227.88 over the year, a saving of just £24.
Fear of problems
Although there is little cost difference between providers offering basic 1Mb services, savings can be made on some other speeds, although switchers need to work out what features and extras they need before calcalating potential savings. For it appears that broadband users are not just looking to save money when they choose a service. A provider's customer service record and an easy switchover is also important to them. A study into experiences of swapping providers found that broadband users who have taken the plunge have had to wait almost three weeks before their new service was fully installed.
Jason Lloyd, head of broadband at moneysupermarket.com , said: 'Competition between providers has become intense and the fact they are vying for new customers puts customers in a strong position. But people stay loyal because they are put off by 'the thought of hassle and delays.' Delays are often not entirely the fault of the broadband providers. The whole network is in the process of being 'unbundled' by BT and, in some areas, the local loop has yet to be done. The state of the network also has an effect on which services can be received in each locality. Some features won't be available if all the necessary equipment hasn't been installed in telephone exchanges.
The knowledge that not every area can take full advantage of some of the new deals is adding to people's wariness of switching. Lloyd said: 'Many broadband users are aware of the restrictions and realise it's no use getting dazzled by great offers when they probably aren't available in their area.'
Another reason for not switching is that broadband providers will often tie in customers to a 12- month or 18-month contract. Switch before the contract is up and you could face a penalty of £50 to £70, Before switching, broadband users need to work out whether the penalty of leaving their contracts early will cost them more than they will save, in which case it would be better to wait until the contract has come to an end. 'It is sometimes still worth switching despite the penalty fee,' Lloyd added. 'One user switched to Tiscali and realised he would get a better deal from Talk Talk but was happy to pay the penalty fee because he would still save £60 over the year with the switch. But switchers have to ensure that will happen before going ahead'
Millions of people use broadband internet. But how rnany of us are paying too much?
Customers wanting a fast service can choose connection speeds
of up to 24~bps. Broadband provider Be offers this speed for downloads and
up to 1.3Mbps for uploads for £24 per montli with urlimited use.There's
also a capped rate of 1Gb usage for £14. The service is currently
available only, in London, although it is expected in other big cities
such as Manchester by this summer. NTL also offers a l0Mbps service from
£34.99 per month. Wanadoo's service up to 8Mbps costs from £l7.99
per month with a 2Gb cap,although the company says 90 per cent of its customers
use less than this. UKOnline's unlimited 22Mbps service costs £29.99
per month, while its 8Mbps service is £24.99, Bulldog offers an unlimited
service up to 8Mbps for £19..50 per month or £9.75 with a 1Gb
By JAYNE ATHERTON
Last year's broadband boom saw more than million users sign up for high-speed Internet access. But 12 months on, are they still getting value for money? According to price comparison service uSwitch.com, broadband users are wasting up to £4million a year by staying with packages that don't match their actual usage. Fierce competition in the industry has forced prices down in recent months and broadband providers are enticing customers by offering faster services at lower prices. NTL is leading the speed race by piloting a 100 megabits per second (Mbps) service in Ashford, Kent, next month. It is so fast that whole films can be downloaded in minutes. But the range of packages open to all Internet users has widened. There are now about 9.8million British households connected to the Internet via broadband. Companies have responded by offering different speeds and price packages to suit different needs. As a result, costs can vary by up to £426 a year, according to uSwitch, depending on what service you choose. The average price of a service offering speeds of 5l2Kbps to lMbps was £22.59 in 2004. Now, the price has dropped to £19.15. High-speed pay-as-you-go services have also been introduced. Bulldog, owned by Cable & Wireless, offers daytime access of up to8Mbps for just 3p a minute.
Getting the best deal
Recruitment consultant William Pringle changed from a dial-up service to 24Mbps broadband from Be. As a new customer, he was able to take advantage of a cheaper than usual £20 a month deal - just £5 more than his original, much slower service. The 27-year-old from Clapham, London, says: 'It's made a massive difference. I was with dial-up for 18 months but the service was shocking for £15. I thought broadband would be a lot more expensive but it's not. I even managed to get a wireless box as part of the new deal.'
The need for speed
Suppliers often aren't keen to alert there customers that they are coming to the end of their contract - or to help them gauge how much of their service they are actually using. And some broadband providers automatically upgrade users to a faster service for the same monthly fee, but customers can't expect it. Choosing the right connection speed can save broadband customers up to £180 a year, according to uSwitch. They can then find the cheapest supplier for their chosen speed. An 8Mbps service will allow more than seven hours of Internet surfing a day, more than 20 music downloads and six hours of playing games. But if you use the Internet for only two hours a day and to send a few e-mails then a basic 512Kbps connection will probably be sufficient. After a year, broadband customers should know how much they use their service and will be in a better position to choose the best speed. Blair Wadman, broadband product manager for uSwitch, says: 'Before customers pay out an ultra-fast service, they need to thirik whether they are going to use it. For the average customer, a speed of between two and eight megabits will be enough.
'A faster service helps for watching TV and video clips or for connecting more than one computer. But customers who only download occasionally could manage comfortably with one megabit - and save money.' Switching is similar to the process involved with changing mobile phone services. Existing providers issue a migration authorisation code which can be taken to the new provider. 'Customers have to be careful that they are out of their l2month initial contract before they do this,' says Blair Wadman. 'Otherwise they may end up paying twice - or being chased for the rest of their contractual payments.'