Posted on 2020-04-27 14:56 in News Features
We're a month into a lockdown introduced to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted the activities of every household and business in the country. That disruption hasn't spared broadband providers, with Openreach, the BT Group company that maintains telephone exchanges, lines and street cabinets, putting a halt to all non-essential home engineer visits until at least June. Other providers, such as Sky, have also announced delays to home television installations and other in-home services.
If you're not getting everything you need from your broadband service and need to switch to something better suited for lockdown homeworking or the demands of an entire stay-at-home family, then you may well be anxious that these disruptions are going to prevent or seriously delay your switch.
Thankfully, as with capacity and performance, the reassuring message from most broadband providers at this point is that it's 'business as usual' for the vast majority of switches.
If you currently have broadband from one home broadband provider and you're simply switching to another on the same telephone line then you'll most likely be able to 'self-install', with the vast majority of cases being as simple as swapping your existing provider's router with the new provider's replacement.
Things may become a little more complicated if you're moving into a new home and need a new telephone line to be activated. The same may be true if you're currently using a broadband technology, such as full fibre from providers like Hyperoptic or cable from Virgin Media, that doesn't use the copper telephone lines. In these cases, if you're switching to a part-fibre technology such as most providers' fibre offering, with speeds averaging 38Mb or 68Mb or less, then you'll need to have a working BT-compatible telephone line in your home.
However, even in these cases, if there's a BT or Openreach telephone master socket already in your home, it's highly likely that it will be possible for this to be reactivated without an engineer visit being needed.
So, barring faults, only those who live in new build homes with only a fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection provided, or flats only provided with a cable broadband and telephone connection, are likely to be in a situation where there technology they currently use will prevent them from switching to other providers until the lockdown restrictions allow a home engineer visit in order to install the a telephone line.
Whether those who are currently on telephone line broadband can switch to providers and technologies that use full fibre or cable to the home will vary on a provider-by-provider basis. BT seem to have halted new installs of their own FTTP product, but similar ultrafast products using a different technology are available but with potential delays.
The best advice at this time is to speak to advisors, such as via live chat on product pages, before you sign up.
If you're switching between a non-Openreach provider such as Virgin Media and an Openreach provider that does use a BT-compatible phone line, or vice versa, then it's recommended that you don't cancel your current service until your new broadband service has been fully installed and confirmed as working. Non-Openreach providers don't need a BT-compatible phone line to work, so can be run in parallel with another service that does use that phone line. At this present time, it's safest to allow some overlap, especially with the strong chance of additional delays due to the lockdown.
However, we would suggest that you should always check with your existing provider that you're not still tied to a minimum contract period and won't be liable to large exit charges should you switch before that period ends.
Even if you fall into the 'business as usual' category, it's best to expect a greater chance of additional delays, simply because of higher than normal demand for customer services and employees having to do technical jobs remotely from home. See our recent post on improving your broadband without disruption to service for tips on how to ensure that you have a working backup connection, should that happen.
Posted on 2020-03-23 18:17 in News Vodafone Plusnet BT Virgin Media Sky EE
With millions of people now having to work from home there's been a lot of speculation about whether the UK's broadband infrastructure will be able to handle a massive surge in demand.
Well don't worry, because the expectation is that it can. That's the word from BT, who say they've got "more than enough capacity…to handle mass-scale home-working in response to COVID-19".
Last week, the company shared some data to demonstrate just how well their network was able to cope with higher levels of usage. They showed that in the previous week a couple of major video game releases and Champions League football had combined to hit new record levels of traffic for BT - to the tune of 17.5 terabits per second (Tbps) - without the network buckling under the strain.
The increase in home working meanwhile, has seen daytime traffic increase by as much as 60%, but still remains well below the record at around 7.5Tbps. Of course, with schools now closed, it's likely that traffic will go up further during the day, but the industry is confident that it will be able to handle it.
Our own speed test data, compiled from thousands of speed tests each month, supports the view that broadband connections aren't slowing down as well. We pulled the average home broadband speed results from the middle of February, and they were 44Mbps. The period between the 8th and the 14th of March saw average speeds of 43.9Mbps, while between the 15th to the 23rd of March, average speeds were 44.7Mbps. The speed differences displayed are of no real significance, and we're happy that people shouldn't be seeing any negative impact on their connection, despite the current change in UK working arrangements.
Are you working from home? Check out our tips on how to minimise disruption to your broadband service, and make sure it's good enough for what you need.
To help things along, TV streaming companies have agreed temporary measures to slash the amount of data they use by as much as a quarter. Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ are streaming their content at a lower bitrate, while YouTube now defaults to an SD stream - although you can still manually set videos to play at a higher resolution if you want to. The BBC also seems likely to make a change in the not too distant future.
Will you notice the difference? Possibly not, although it depends what you're watching. Streaming at a lower bitrate means that the video is more heavily compressed. With the way video compression works it's more noticeable in busy scenes with lots of fast movement, where the image may become blocky or distorted. In slower scenes, you'll have to look pretty closely to see any effect.
As for streaming in SD, as with YouTube, that might not look great if you watch on a massive 4K telly, but for viewing on a smaller screen like a tablet it should be just fine.
How to pause your Sky Sports and BT Sport subscriptions
In other news, Sky and BT have taken the decision to allow customers to pause their sports channel subscriptions for as long as there's no actual sport taking place. You can do this at sky.com/pausesport or at bt.com/tv. Unfortunately, you can't pause these channels if you've got them through Virgin Media.
BT have removed data caps on all their broadband products. This won't affect most people, since most of their plans are already unlimited. But if you're on an older deal you'll no longer have to worry about managing your usage.
And lots of broadband providers have issued statements to explain their COVID-19 plans, including what happens if you need a callout from a technician to solve a problem. You should have received this via email, but if you haven't you can read them online from BT, Sky, Virgin Media, EE, Vodafone and Plusnet.
Posted on 2020-03-14 15:46 in News
The Government has reaffirmed its plan to extend the UK's gigabit-capable broadband network nationwide.
In the Spring budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiled £5 billion of funding to roll out better broadband in the hardest-to-reach areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This covers around 20% of the country, with a particular focus on rural areas.
He also announced the next seven areas that will receive funding from the existing £1 billion Local Full Fibre Challenge. These are North of Tyne (£12 million), South Wales (£12 million), Tay Cities (£6.7 million), Pembrokeshire (£4 million), Plymouth (£3 million), Essex and Hertfordshire (£2.1 million) and East Riding of Yorkshire (£1 million).
The Government said that it has rolled out full-fibre broadband to over 370,000 premises to date, and announced their intention to legislate to ensure that new build homes have access to gigabit-capable broadband.
The plan started life as part of Boris Johnson's Tory leadership campaign, when he set an ambitious target of rolling out full-fibre to everyone by 2025. This was subsequently watered down to "gigabit-capable", which means that mobile broadband over the 5G network is likely to be needed to take up some of the slack.
The Government's investment is designed to cover the parts of the country where the spending on infrastructure is less commercially viable. The private sector will be required to fund the rest of the project.
The Internet Services Providers’ Association welcomed the announcement, but also restated their existing concerns about being able to meet Downing Street's deadline.
"Increased funding alone will not allow the industry to get the job done," they said. "Broadband rollout is largely privately funded and in order to provide industry with a chance to meet the Government’s 2025 ambition, today’s announcements needs to be backed up with further reform on wayleaves, new build legislation, action on street works and further investment into digital and engineering skills."
Posted on 2020-02-17 12:40 in News
Do you know when your broadband contract ends? If you don't, you aren't alone. Millions of people have no idea about the status of their deals.
Many are already out of contract - and it's leaving them out of pocket.
Industry watchdog Ofcom are introducing new rules this month to tackle the problem. They'll force broadband providers to be a whole lot more proactive about making sure you know your options, telling you when your contract ends, and also what better deals they could give you.
Currently, research shows that around one in seven users don’t know whether they're still tied to their original deal, and a further one in eight believe they are still in contract, but have no idea when it ends.
The reason why this matters is that if you stick with a deal after the initial agreement is over a so-called "loyalty penalty" kicks in and you end up paying, on average, 20% more than you should be for your internet access. That figure rises to a hefty 26% if the deal includes a pay TV bundle.
Ever eager to ensure customers can access the best deals possible, Ofcom's new rules come into force on 15th February.
From that date onwards your broadband supplier will have to:
- warn you between 10 and 40 days before your contract is due to end, by letter, email or SMS
- inform you of the price you pay today, and what you will pay after your contract ends
- tell you of any other changes that will happen to your deal
- give you information about any notice period needed if you want to switch providers
- show you the best deals they currently offer, including prices usually reserved for new customers
- continue informing you of their best prices every year you remain on your old plan
What to do when your broadband contract ends
But even with this help, the broadband market can be difficult to navigate. The wide range of deals available can be confusing, and it's not always clear what the best choice is.
Our new guide on what to do when your broadband contract ends explains all the rule changes in full, and outlines your options. Once your deal is up you're in a strong position negotiate a new price with your existing provider, and you're also free to shop around for the best broadband deals and switch to a new ISP.
We've also set up a helpline you can call to get advice on what your next steps should be. If you're unsure what the right choice is, need help choosing a provider, or have questions about contracts or the switching process, our impartial advisors are on hand to help. Give us a call on 0800 093 0405, or you can arrange for us to call you if it's more convenient. We're open from 9am to 8pm weekdays, and 9am to 6pm on Saturdays.
Posted on 2020-01-31 17:15 in News Vodafone EE Sky
Vodafone home broadband have once again topped industry watchdog Ofcom's list of shame as the most complained about of the 8 biggest broadband suppliers. By contrast, EE and Sky have shared the glory as the least complained-about providers.
Ofcom complaint figures for the 3rd quarter of last year show that Vodafone garnered 26 complaints per every 100,000 customers between July and September 2019. This was an improvement on the 30 per 100,000 they hit in the previous quarter, but was still close to double the industry average. Almost 4 in 10 of the grievances related to faults and service issues.
In a difficult period, Vodafone also topped the chart for the most landline complaints (18 per 100,000) and were joint top for mobile (7 per 100,000, with Virgin Mobile).
Of the rest of the Big Eight, Plusnet, TalkTalk and Virgin Media also generated an above average number of complaints. At the end of 2018 Plusnet were by far the most complained about provider with a whopping 43 complaits per 100,000 subscribers, but they have improved every quarter since and are now equal to TalkTalk. Meanwhile Virgin Media saw the biggest rise in complaints across 2019, having started at 10 per 100,000 in the first quarter. Across the board, the main causes of the gripes were complaints handling (32%), faults and service issues (31%), and billing problems (20%).
Meanwhile, EE and Sky were shown to be the Big Eight providers that left their users feeling happiest. Their 5 complaints each per 100,000 customers was nearly two-thirds less than the overall industry average and less than a fifth of the complaint levels received by Vodafone Home Broadband.
Here's the full rundown of the Big Eight's broadband complaints per every 100,000 customers:
Ofcom's Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints report is released quarterly, and covers providers with a market share of over 1.5%. It counts complaints received by the regulator, but doesn't include those sent directly to the provider or any other body.
The report also covers landline (worst performer: Vodafone; best performer: EE), mobile (worst: Vodafone and Virgin Media; best: Tesco Mobile), and pay TV services (worst: Virgin Media; best: Sky).
How to compare smaller broadband providers
Ofcom's research comes in very handy when you're shopping for a new broadband provider, as it gives you a good overview of the general performance of each company. But it does exclude the smaller providers who often offer interesting services, such as the no-contract deals from NOW Broadband or the near-gigabit internet from Hyperoptic.
So what can you do if you're considering one of these companies? Our broadband listings measure overall user satisfaction levels for each provider, as well as their performance on customer service, speed and reliability issues. You can see their most recent ratings or a historic figure for all time, allowing you to judge whether their performance has worsened over time. Zen Broadband currently top our rankings.
Along with the ratings we've got over 20,000 user reviews across all the providers. It gives you an unmatched insight into the kind of experience you'll get with each company, and what issues you may or may not have with them.
You can see all the scores on our Broadband Reviews page, and just click through to read the feedback for each broadband. We'd also encourage you to leave a rating and review of your own, even if you have no complaints. The more information we share, the easier it becomes to choose the right broadband provider.
Posted on 2020-01-10 18:42 in News Virgin Media
Are you a Virgin Media customer who joined before 1st December 2019 on one of their 54Mbps M50 packages? If so, the chances are you're eligible for a free upgrade to the M100 package, with average speeds of 108Mbps! This means that over half a million customers can expect to see their average downloads speeds double, and some may even see their speeds increase up to 5 times more! These upgrades are automatically rolling out now, no need for you to do anything to take advantage of it. You'll be emailed when the upgrade is complete, and you can enjoy your new, zippier download speeds.
What does this speed increase mean in practical terms? Well, you won't really see a big difference for simple, every day tasks such as browsing the internet, watching cat videos on YouTube and streaming music; these are all things you can do on a standard broadband connection. Where it will have a big impact is if you stream TV and films in UHD (4K), especially if several members of your household want to watch different things at the same time. 50Mbps is enough to stream a UHD film for one person, but more than that and your connection may start to struggle.
This speed upgrade will also benefit gamers, who frequently download games, large updates and patches, and these can take quite a while to grab. The average game is between 30GB to 50GB in size (and they keep getting bigger, with the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 hitting around 150GB). A 30GB game takes nearly 90 minutes to download on a 50Mbps connection, whereas it would take just over 40 minutes with a 100Mbps. So the faster your download speed, the faster you'll be playing your games.
If you're not one of the lucky ones to get your speed doubled, you may still be able to get a better speed from your provider without paying any extra! Our newly updated Upgrades Guide tells you what you need to know.
Posted on 2019-12-06 14:49 in News
We've already taken a look at the national parties' broadband policies for the upcoming election. But if you're in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you've got other parties in the hunt for your vote, too, so let's see what they've got to say.
"We will also press the UK Government to invest in digital connectivity including superfast broadband and 5G technology. Since 2013, we have increased broadband to 95% of premises across Scotland, on time and on budget. Now only the SNP is committed to providing access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland, investing £600 million towards this, with the UK Government providing just £21 million of that.
"SNP MPs will press for Scotland to get its fair share of the £5 billion UK Government funding to roll out gigabit broadband to the hardest to reach areas. We will call on the Shared Rural Network to deliver 95% 4G mobile coverage in Scotland – as applies for the rest of the UK. And we will press for the current review into the UK Telecoms Supply Chain to be concluded promptly.
"SNP MPs will work to bridge the digital divide to improve the availability and affordability of broadband and mobile services. We will press the UK government to reclassify the internet as an essential service and support affordable housing providers to make the service available. We will also work with broadband and mobile service providers to make more affordable tariffs and packages more widely available – and call for the UK Government to legislate for a social tariff."
Although broadband policy, including funding and management, is the responsibility of the UK government, the Scottish Parliament does get to decide how the money is spent north of the border. It can also add extra funding on top of what comes from Westminster.
The SNP policy is mostly built around these two points. They want to provide extra money to continue the rollout of superfast broadband across the country, and secure a chunk of the £5 billion pledged to improve broadband coverage in rural areas. According to Ofcom data from May 2019, some 4% of premises in Scotland are unable to access a basic service offering 10Mb downloads and 1Mb uploads - a worse rate than in both England (2%) and Wales (3%).
"Creating a publicly owned Welsh Broadband Infrastructure Company to guarantee access to full-fibre broadband to every home and business in Wales by 2025.
"Cut the fibre tax - Fibre infrastructure currently has business rates applied to it, just like other commercial property. Plaid Cymru believes this discourages investment and should be rethought.
"New builds fit-for-purpose - Too many new homes are still being developed without provision for fibre broadband. Plaid Cymru wants all new build homes to incorporate gigabit-capable internet connections.
"Skills - A large number of engineers will be required to carry out all the work involved. Plaid Cymru would invest in training and skills for the industry to be able to meet the demand."
Only the first of the above policies has actually made the Plaid Cymru manifesto for 2019, and forms part of a series of infrastructure improvements under the banner of a "Green Jobs Revolution". The policy takes a similar line to Labour's plan of having the full-fibre rollout being handled by a publicly owned company, although they want to complete the job five years earlier. As of May 2019, 10% of premises in Wales had access to full-fibre broadband, a rate well above England and Scotland, but there's still a long way to go.
The other policies we've listed formed a three point plan the party unveiled in September. They are pretty much identical to the recommendations made by the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) in response to Boris Johnson's "full-fibre for all" announcement in the summer.
Northern Ireland Parties
Broadband in Northern Ireland is a mixture of good and bad. Full-fibre availability is by far the best in the UK, at 25% of premises, but broadband "not-spots" - where 5% of premises cannot access even a 10Mb connection - are the worst. Only two of the parties in Northern Ireland make reference to broadband in their manifestos, and in both cases it's merely a token mention.
"Digital network infrastructure, which connects us to the Internet, and to each other, is increasingly recognised as core economic infrastructure, like electricity, gas and water. They are central to tackling the UK’s productivity problem. The DUP will support:
- Full fibre networks for the UK.
- 5G network rollout."
"Continue to support the development of broadband, high-speed mobile internet access and similar telecommunications projects in such a way that ensures all parts of the UK benefit from this technology."
Posted on 2019-11-26 16:45 in News Features
As you might have noticed, there's an election coming up.
Obviously, broadband is not going to be one of the most important issues for most voters, yet it has played a surprisingly high profile role in the campaign so far, as parties use it as a way to show off their grand visions for Britain in the 2020s.
So what exactly are they promising? Fortunately, we've read the party manifestos so you don't have to. Here's what they're saying.
Conservatives broadband policy
"We intend to bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025.
"We know how difficult it will be, so we have announced a raft of legislative changes to accelerate progress and £5 billion of new public funding to connect premises which are not commercially viable."
The Tory policy is based on Boris Johnson's "full fibre for everyone by 2025" plan that he announced during his party leadership campaign, which we looked at back in August. The reaction at the time was that, while it was a nice idea, the timescale was just too ambitious.
No surprise, then, that the plan has been subtly tweaked. The manifesto now talks about "gigabit-capable" broadband rather than focussing wholly on fibre-to-the-home. This presumably includes Virgin Media's network, and maybe even 5G, as the rollout of that accelerates over the next five years.
The Tories have pledged £5 billion of funding to cover rural and other hard to reach areas. The rest of the estimated £30 billion will come through private investment.
Labour broadband policy
"Labour will deliver free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030.
"We will establish British Broadband, with two arms: British Digital Infrastructure (BDI) and the British Broadband Service (BBS). We will bring the broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership, with a jobs guarantee for all workers in existing broadband infrastructure and retail broadband work.
"BDI will roll out the remaining 90–92% of the full-fibre network, and acquire necessary access rights to existing assets. BBS will coordinate the delivery of free broadband in tranches as the full-fibre network is rolled out, beginning with the communities worst served by existing broadband networks. Taxation of multinationals, including tech giants, will pay for the operating costs of the public full-fibre network."
Labour have the most eye-catching policy by far, and either the most exciting or controversial depending on your point of view.
The first part is the renationalisation of Openreach, the BT-owned company that controls the UK's broadband infrastructure, and is part of their broader plan to bring water, the Post Office and the railways back under public control. They would then continue the rollout of the full-fibre network, starting with rural areas, with a target date of 2030. They've allocated four times as much money to this as the Tories, funded largely by taxes on the likes of Facebook and Google.
The pledge to provide free full-fibre broadband to everyone grabbed the headlines, but in truth it looks more like a long-term goal than a firm policy. There's no real detail and no acknowledgement of the ways the broadband landscape will change over the next decade. Plus, there will be at least two more general elections before that 2030 deadline.
So how viable is all of this, and what are the implications? Read our full analysis of Labour's broadband policy to find out.
Liberal Democrats broadband policy
"A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas.
"Reform building standards to ensure that all new homes built from 2022 have full connectivity to ultra-fast broadband and are designed to enable the use of smart technologies.
"Prioritise small and medium-sized businesses in the rollout of hyper-fast broadband.
"Ensure that all households and businesses have access to superfast broadband (30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload). Invest £2 billion in innovative solutions to ensure the provision of high-speed broadband across the UK, working with local authorities and providing grants to help areas replicate the success of existing community-led projects."
The Lib Dems' main broadband policy - to install a hyperfast network, with an emphasis on rural areas - is similar to what the two biggest parties are promising. It isn't costed, though, and presumably has an open ended timetable given the nature of two of their other more interesting policies: ensuring that new homes can get ultrafast (not hyperfast) broadband, and the guarantee that everyone will get at least 30Mb internet. This is an upgrade on the current 10Mb standard, although still a long way short of the gigabit speeds being promised elsewhere.
The Brexit Party broadband policy
"Partner with service providers to offer free base level domestic broadband in deprived regions and free Wi-Fi on all public transport."
The Brexit Party's stated aim in this election is to target Leave-voting seats in Labour strongholds. With this in mind, their one-sentence internet policy appears purely designed to give campaigners on the doorstep a way to counter support for Labour's own (and more ambitious) free broadband plan. That's about all we can say about it, since there's no detail to go on - "base level" isn't defined, and we don't know exactly who will get it, when, or how much the whole plan will cost.
The Green Party broadband policy
"Better connect rural communities through reliable broadband and mobile internet, delivered through councils who understand local connection needs.
"Roll out high speed broadband."
Nobody is going to vote for the Greens based on their broadband policy, and they know it. They've kept it short: like most other parties they've acknowledged the pressing need to upgrade the infrastructure in rural areas, and that's about it.
Confused about some of the issues discussed in these manifestos? Read more about the challenges of rural broadband, the different types of fibre broadband, and how 5G may soon be our fastest way to access the internet.
Posted on 2019-11-15 19:33 in News
Social media has been buzzing with reaction to Labour’s latest election pledge - free, fast, full fibre broadband for everyone. But what have they actually promised and what would it mean for your broadband?
Well the first part of their proposed plan is to renationalise Openreach and the parts of BT that sell broadband products in order to form a British Broadband service. This follows Labour’s existing pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and water companies.
The second part is to give everyone in the country the fastest full-fibre broadband for free - a pretty bold and eye-catching election pledge!
Corbyn called it a “fresh, transformational polic[y] that will change your life” while Johnson has declared it a “crazed communist scheme”, but what does it all mean and could it possibly work?
Could they actually pull this off if elected?
It’s hard to say exactly at this point because this is only an election pledge and the full manifesto has yet to be published, but we do have the full text of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech announcing Labour’s broadband plans as well as interviews given by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
The main thing we do know is that fully free fibre broadband is only promised by the year 2030, which is so far in the future that the technological landscape is likely to be extremely different.
By then 5G mobile broadband or an even faster future technology is likely to be widespread. It’s also likely that well before then many households will be connecting their homes to the internet using 5G mobile routers. Many of these already look and work like smart speakers mimicking those of the big brands. Whichever one of Amazon, Apple, Google or some other tech giant tha first offers 5G connectivity as default may completely change how broadband works, it may even be bundled free with smart devices or home hubs - rather than getting broadband free from the government it may be free from whichever multinational corporation you choose to buy devices from.
2030 is so far in the future, it’s hard to predict!
What we find far more interesting and far more relevant to the near future than the promise of free broadband a decade from now is the proposal to nationalise Openreach.
What is Openreach?
Openreach is one of the BT Group companies that’s been separated from BT’s commercial arm. Openreach operate the telephone exchanges and install and maintain telephone lines, fibre-optic cables and street cabinets. It’s also Openreach engineers who would come to your home to install broadband equipment if needed.
Most UK broadband uses Openreach telephone exchanges, cables and engineers because it’s all delivered over your telephone lines. Only broadband that’s provided by cable companies and smaller full fibre suppliers like Virgin Media, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear avoids using Openreach’s broadband delivery system and engineers, as do 4G and 5G mobile broadband services and those based in Hull where BT never operated.
This doesn’t mean that every broadband service delivered through Openreach’s infrastructure is the same. While many broadband services are re-selling the same Openreach products, others use a system called Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) to allow them to install their own equipment in Openreach exchanges, which has historically allowed faster speeds and cheaper prices than other broadband providers.
However, this only ever made a significant difference to speeds in the era of phoneline-only (ADSL) broadband, so it hasn’t really been the case since part-fibre (FTTC) products offering speeds around 36Mbps or 67Mbps became the most common products sold. Openreach controls the fibre street cabinets, so competition for part-fibre products has only been on price and bundled extras, everyone using Openreach infrastructure is essentially selling the same broadband.
What will this mean for broadband?
Well for one thing, a national full fibre network will be important back end infrastructure underlying 5G mobile broadband and whatever comes after that. Fibre-optic is a ‘future-proofed’ technology that gets faster over time, only limited by the tech that deciphers the messages delivered down the fibres at the speed of light. In fact, we would have had superfast broadband in the 1990s and ultrafast broadband in the 2000s if not for the privatisation of BT putting a halt to the rollout of a national fibre-optic network in the 1980s.
The other main benefit of a nationalised equivalent of Openreach is that plans to install fibre-optic infrastructure can prioritise rural and remote areas that are the most in need of better broadband technology. And this appears to be exactly what Labour intends to do.
When a commercial company rolls out a new communications technology, it tends to go to the most heavily populated areas. Not only that, it’s usually those where people have the most money, or at least are most likely to buy new technologies such as areas with lots of students or young professionals.
In practice this means that new technologies often come to areas that already have the fastest broadband available and often have a choice of fast broadband options from other companies like Virgin Media or even full-fibre from suppliers like Hyperoptic. This was the case with part-fibre broadband and 4G, and it’s already the case with next generation G.fast and 5G rollouts.
This is because commercial companies need to guarantee that they’ll make enough money to not only pay for the costs of installing and running the service, but also that they’ll make a lot of profit on top of these costs in order to pay their shareholders and executives.
With a nationalised service rolling new technology out, only the costs need to be covered, and profit is rolled back into making services better. Effectively, the taxpayers are the shareholders and the government are the executives.
So in theory, nationalised broadband service would be able to prioritise getting everyone in the country to a minimum level of broadband speed. Meaning areas that already have a reasonable broadband speed would be at the back of the queue and, for once, those areas where there’s currently no good broadband service or no broadband at all would get put to the front of the queue to even the playing field.
Should the government stay out of broadband?
The major political parties all recognise that rollout of broadband to the most under-served areas of the country is a problem. The disagreement is over how best to address the problem.
This Conservative government and past governments have already recognised that commercial neglect of rural and remote broadband provision is a problem.
£780 million of taxpayer money was spent on the rollout of faster part-fibre broadband to less commercially-viable, mostly rural areas under the Broadband Development UK (BDUK) scheme.
This used a convoluted process where companies were meant to bid in local authority areas and the companies with the best bids in each area would be granted the contract by the local authority to install new broadband infrastructure in that area. Due to Openreach effectively having the monopoly on the type of infrastructure work involved, in all but a handful of areas all this money went to the BT Group and Openreach ended up doing the work. As a result this was criticised as inefficient and a waste of time and resources.
Broadband has also been designated an essential service and so the Universal Service Obligation, that was previously applied to voice telephone services in 2003, is being applied to broadband services from 2020. This will mean that everyone in the UK must be able to achieve at least 2Mbps broadband (or an alternative type of internet connection).
The Conservative party also recognises that none of this is enough and have pledged £5 billion to bring gigabit (1,000Mbps) broadband connections to the hardest-to-reach 20% of the population by 2025. They’ve also promised a Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund that they claim will unlock an expected £1 billion of further public and private investment in full fibre broadband.
We’ve examined whether the government’s proposals were viable back when it was a leadership campaign pledge.
How are Labour proposing to pay for this?
Again, we don’t know all the details yet, because the full manifesto is yet to be published, but we do know that a large part will involve taxing the big multinational tech companies like Google and Facebook, which are notable for avoiding paying UK tax at present.
However, the government has criticised Labour’s spending estimates and pointed out that the task of buying back privatised services and setting a new British Broadband service is likely to be extremely disruptive and add significant delays to the rollout of gigabit fibre broadband, and also discourage private investment in broadband technologies. In fact the sale of TalkTalk has already been disrupted by these plans and BT’s stock prices have plummeted.
The government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has already commissioned a detailed report into how gigabit broadband could possibly be rolled out to the last 20% in such a short timeframe, and this report does support the government’s criticism that switching to a monopoly provider would cause the most disruption and delays in the initial stages. However, in the longer term the government’s report may support Labour’s proposition that a nationalised service is the only way to guarantee a fair rollout of 100% fibre coverage.
The report looked at 3 different scenarios, one of which was a national monopoly, albeit one run by a commercial company such as Openreach, not a government owned nationalised provider.
In the 15 year projection, the only option that offered the closest to 100% coverage for full fibre broadband with the same prices charged to customers nationwide was the monopoly provider solution.
The projection for the current situation was likely to have 60% coverage in 15 years time, the ‘enhanced competition’ scenario would cover 80% in 15 years time leaving another 20% for competitors to cover (which would likely hit the same problems with needing to prioritise profitability) and the ‘franchising’ scenario also potentially covered 100% but was likely to charge customers more in low competition areas than in urban areas (something that has happened before with Ofcom’s market classification system where if you have no choice for a cheaper provider, the provider is allowed to charge you more for the same service).
The report also found a number of downsides to their national monopoly scenario - mainly that there would be no incentive to innovate and install new technologies when there are no competitors pushing technology forward. This was demonstrated with how mobile network technologies rolled out slower in monopoly countries than in those with multiple mobile networks, and how the pattern repeated with every generation of mobile broadband speed.
However, this is arguably not a problem in a nationalised scenario where the government sets the ambitious innovation targets. Particularly when ambitious full-fibre broadband proposals are so frequently central to political campaigning.
What does the future hold?
So will we have the very fastest broadband free for everyone by 2030? Would a Labour government be able to balance the books? Who knows! It’s too far in the future to judge what broadband will look like in a decade, we could all be getting it free from Facebook, Apple or Google by then, rather than free from the government.
If a Labour government stayed in power until 2030 and managed to deliver on the promise of the very fastest broadband free for everyone, that would be hugely disruptive and reaction from broadband service providers has been strongly negative.
But in the shorter term, the government’s own report seems to suggest that a nationalised version of Openreach might be the only chance we have to deliver cheap full-fibre broadband for the parts of the UK that currently need it the most.
Posted on 2019-09-03 11:14 in Announcements News
We're very pleased to announce that Broadband.co.uk has been reaccredited by Ofcom! We've been accredited by Ofcom since 2010, and undergo regular independent audits every 18 months to ensure that our comparison service meets their rigorous standards.
Lindsey Fussell, Director of Ofcom's Consumer and External Relations Group, had this to say on the subject:
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Our CEO, Edd Dawson, had this to say in response to the news.
"It's fantastic to yet again be re-accredited by Ofcom. The broadband market is complex and diverse, our aim is to make it simple for consumers to find and switch to the best deal for them. Being part of the accreditation scheme is key to demonstrating that we are impartial, open and honest with our recommendations."
We look forward to continuing to provide users of our site with a service that they can trust well into the future.