Broadband rage – symptom of a slow, patchy and expensive service

Complaints are rising, with rural areas poorly served by fast broadband, but there are ways to try improving your service

The digital age has changed the way we shop, bank and play but a rising number of consumers report being stuck with slow broadband and unable to leave costly contracts.

A home broadband service costs up to £35 a month, with consumers typically tied into 12-month contracts, but latest tests from communications regulator Ofcom show that the typical speed varies dramatically around the UK. It averages 26.4Mbps (megabits per second) in urban areas, 17.9Mbps in suburban areas and 9.9Mbps in the countryside. Many consumers, particularly those in rural and hard-to-reach locations, are stuck on speeds of less than 2Mbps.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: "People who are paying substantial sums for their broadband and still getting patchy internet service and lacklustre connection speeds are understandably angry.

"Since April last year there has been a 27% jump in the number of people coming in to seek help about internet and broadband issues. People living in rural areas can find unreliable internet a particular struggle. It is vital that value for money with internet costs is not an urban luxury so that everyone can freely access the online market."

The government has plans to ensure superfast broadband, typically with speeds of 30Mbps and above, reaches 95% of UK homes and businesses by 2017 after extending its deadline by two years, but some areas have little prospect of being upgraded to the new fibre optic technology in the short term.

"Installation is expensive and takes a long time," says Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at "Providers are upgrading areas that are already relatively well-connected first before turning their attention to more isolated regions."

Take Paul Bellchambers, a 55-year-old chef from Moulsford, Oxfordshire, who has been battling an average speed of 1.5Mbps in the morning, and 0.9Mbps at other times of the day with BT.

"This is just about enough for email but I wouldn't think about much else, and it's incredibly frustrating, " he says. "There's not a lot we can do as everyone around here has the same problem – it's a rural location where the infrastructure is meant to be upgraded at some stage over the next few years, but we don't have a date for this, and it's hard to believe it'll happen after so long with poor speeds.

"We are typically paying around £50 per month for our landline and internet when extra calls are included or extra broadband used," Bellchambers adds. He would like to switch provider, "but there are few options where I live, and anyway the BT contract keeps rolling over".

His is one of a number of complaints from readers facing problems with their broadband providers. Ofcom's latest report on complaints in the broadband industry named Orange/EE as the most complained about provider between July and September 2013, for the fifth consecutive quarter. The service has received double the average number of complaints from users, standing at 0.45 complaints per 1,000 customers, up from 0.32 the previous quarter. BT was the second most complained about broadband provider, again showing a significant rise over the previous quarter.

A third of people who call their broadband provider do so to complain, according to Ofcom, with speeds remaining the biggest issue for customers, followed by problems with customer service and switching packages.

Baliszewski points out that most broadband connections are still delivered through the "grindingly slow" old copper telephone network. He says: "This technology is decades old and subject to numerous shortcomings, the main one being that if your house is a long distance from the local exchange, the strength of your connection weakens, giving you a slow broadband speed.

"The old network can also experience a massive slowdown if lots of people are online – it's a little like 10 people trying to get through one door at the same time."


Harriet Meyer

The GuardianTramp

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