By Sarah Coles
Monday, August 10, 2009.
Editor's note: This article is targeted at readers residing in Britain. Please always seek expert opinions when making financial decisions.
Moving to broadband is supposed to change your life, and for many people it does - but in all the wrong ways. Slow and unreliable connections mean that a product that promises to make everything easier simply makes it more frustrating.
Take Nicky Preston, a 25-year-old communications manager from London, who moved to Sky broadband because it came as part of a package deal with her television. She says: "It's incredibly frustrating. You can use the internet for five minutes, and then the signal goes. If more than one person is trying to use it, then it immediately stops working."
The problem is partly a fundamental issue with broadband itself when it comes through traditional copper wire. As the wire travels from the telephone exchange to your house it becomes weaker and loses speed. This is the main reason why people paying for 'up to 8Mbps' are, on average, getting just 3.6Mbps.
Michael Phillips, product director of Broadbandchoices.co.uk, says: "Providers should be advertising average speeds. With loans, you have to advertise the typical APR that two-thirds of people are able to get, and broadband rules should be the same."
In December 2008, regulator Ofcom created a code of practice which means providers promising "up to" a specific speed have to tell customers what that maximum speed is likely to be.
However, at the moment, Jason Glynn, a communications expert from uSwitch.com, says many providers could be clearer on this.
Even if they do follow the code, other things could affect the speed - it might slow up during busy times, when lots of people in your area all use the same provider, or even after sunset.
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The code of practice says providers must make these things clear. Unfortunately, this isn't happening; Ofcom recently found that broadband speeds didn't live up to 26% of consumers' expectations.
So what can you do? If the problem is speed, start by testing the line.
Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com, explains: "Do a speed test, using a website like thinkbroadband.com, then do a test on noise margin and attenuation. You don't need to know what these mean, you just need to feed them into farina1.com/adsl, and it will calculate roughly what speed you should be getting."
If the numbers don't stack up, you need to rule out anything that's happening once the signal gets to your house.
Ferguson explains: "Carefully unscrew the plate on the master socket where the telephone line comes into the house. You'll see a phone socket in the wall. Plug a microfilter (this comes with your modem and is usually supplied by your provider) into this, then plug in your modem and computer. If the speed is as the website predicted, then the problem is in the house."
If the problem is outside the house, however, or concerns a persistently failing line, get your provider to check it. This can be easier said than done: Which? Computing found that 32 of the 45 internet service provider companies it investigated use higher-cost numbers for their helplines, and it can often take a long time to get through to an adviser.
Once you do manage to get through to a technician on the support helpline, you will usually be asked to carry out a number of checks, and they will do various tests at their end. If you've tested the line at the master socket, be persistent; insist they take responsibility and agree to do something about it.
If there's a fault, the internet service provider should fix it. If its technicians can't find a fault, but you were told that the speed would be faster, it should offer to switch you to a slower, cheaper package.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you're paying for 16Mbps and getting 3Mbps, you may as well switch to a cheaper 8Mbps service. It may be slightly slower than 3Mbps, but it will cost you less.
Ofcom's code says the provider should offer an alternative package without any penalties.
If the provider can't improve the speed or provide a stable connection, it should let you cancel immediately. Don't let it tell you that you have to stay for the remainder of the contract.
Glynn says: "There's some service level agreed in the contracts. If you can show the service is negligible, they have to let you cancel."
If you're not happy with the response, put a complaint in writing. If the provider still refuses to let you leave or offer recompense, you can go to one of the two arbitrators: Otelo and CISAS. You should also contact Ofcom.
An Ofcom spokesperson says: " We're monitoring [the situation] and consumers should let us know if they're having problems."
It may seem a hassle to sort this out, but once you've kicked your provider into action, or found a new one with a better service, you can stop tearing your hair out, and start actually enjoying your broadband.
With thanks to Interactive Investors