Find a better broadband deal
Millions of us are using the internet for everything from banking at home to buying groceries and accessing our virtual office, so it's essential that we have a high-speed connection that gives round-the-clock access.
But an independent survey recently found that only 15% of people who bought eight megabit per second packages actually got that speed.
To cope with the demand, broadband suppliers are battling it out to sign up new customers, bombarding them with faster, cheaper deals. Depending on how often you use the internet, and what you use it for, there are a range of options to choose from. And there are growing numbers of bundled deals combining TV, telephone and broadband to add to the list.
The good news is that with more providers and products on the market, prices have been coming down. "The fierce competition, with the launch of bundled deals, has seen the average price for broadband fall from about £15 a month in 2007 to between £10 and £12 now," says Steve Weller, head of communications at uSwitch.com.
Weller recommends that anyone who thinks they may be overpaying for their broadband or is unhappy with the service should look around for a better deal, or at least speak to their existing provider about updating their existing one.
If you've had broadband for a while it's quite likely that you may not know what connection speed you have, how long the contract runs for or even exactly how much it costs (if you pay for it through your phone bill). So, contact your supplier and ask for these details. If you've had broadband for more than a year then the chances are you will no longer be tied into a contract.
According to regulator Ofcom, switching providers is for 85% of users, relatively pain-free. So don't be put off by stories of customers waiting weeks to be connected to a new provider.
However, if you are experiencing problems or are tied into a contract with much lower speeds than you expected, sign our petition today and help Moneywise campaign to get the market cleaned up for you.
How to switch
Prices and packages vary, so before choosing one, consider your own usage carefully. As a general guide, there are three types of user - low, medium and heavy. If you download music tracks, watch videos and are on the internet for three or four hours a day, you'll look for a higher speed than someone doing a bit of online shopping and checking emails daily.
And if you blitz the internet, playing games and downloading films, you need the faster speeds of 8Mb and an unlimited download capacity.
Be aware that while many providers advertise speeds of around 8Mb, this is not always what you get. A recent report from Which? found a huge gap between publicised broadband speeds and what most customers actually get, with the average speed some users receive on 8Mb packages as low as 2.7Mb.
BroadbandChoices.co.uk has monitored the average speed delivered to their customers since August last year. It concluded that Sky gave the most consistent speeds, and Virgin Media received two gold stars for low and high users. TalkTalk did not fare so well, however, delivering an average speed of 2.2Mb for its 8Mb package.
Another factor to take into account is where you live - rural areas tend to have limited choice. So before deciding to switch, find out the services available in your area. Comparison sites have tools that automatically do this using your postcode.
Switching is simpler since the launch of Migration Access Codes (MAC) at the beginning of 2007. This is a unique number that enables engineers to identify your line and switch your service easily. Customers have to obtain the code from their existing supplier and hand it over to their new provider. It can take a few days for your provider to get in gear, so be firm and persistent to enjoy a seamless transfer.
Also, the MAC code lasts only 30 days, so if you fail to switch within that time you'll need another one. Switching without the code could mean losing your internet connection for two weeks or more.
One ongoing problem, though, is that MACs have not been universally adopted by all providers. Some demand a special type of code to switch called an LLU MAC. This is required if both your telephone and broadband use a non-BT exchange, with providers installing their own equipment in a process known as local loop unbundling.
Ofcom is working with the industry to develop a consistent process. In the meantime, it advises customers to ask their new provider to talk them through the process.
Many providers offer bundled deals. A bundle is basically an offering of two or more products for one monthly charge. Initially, broadband and home phone were bundled together by firms such as AOL, BT and TalkTalk. But now consumers can choose between providers that offer broadband, home phone and digital TV.
Generally, a bundle will only be right for you if you use all the products it includes, but it will also depend on how often you use those services. Many people committing to bundles might be signing up for TV channels they never watch.
Bundles can have several downsides. Most require you to commit for a year or 18 months. If you think you may change your mind or move house in that time, there will be a penalty for leaving.
Before switching, you need to make sure you are not tied into a contract with any existing supplier for any product within the bundle. If you have contracts of differing lengths, you'll need to wait for all your existing contracts to end before you switch. Also consider that if you become reliant on one provider which has poor customer service, this could impact across all the products you have.
Which? conducts regular satisfaction surveys. "Bundled services usually don't do so well as standalone broadband," says Ceri Stanaway, telecoms expert at Which?. "Smaller services which focus on one service do better, with Zen and Waitrose among the best, although you often pay a bit more for these." Watch out for the cost of calling technical helplines, she adds, as some charge as much as 50p a minute.
PlusNet came top for a similar survey by uSwitch.com, with TalkTalk and Orange at the bottom of the pile for customer satisfaction. They were judged on value, service connection, support servicing and speed at fixing a problem.
Let us know the providers you are happy with on our broadband poll.
Stands for either Migration Authorisation Code or Migration Access Code and is a 17-19 digit alphanumeric code used when switching broadband providers and allows broadband customers to switch between providers with minimal, if any, disruption to broadband service. A MAC code is like a serial number used to identify your broadband connection within the local exchange. If you’re switching provider and it has this code, it can simply move your connection over to its service. Customers apply to their current provider that will issue the unique MAC code, which is then given to the new provider, but it’s very likely the new provider will do this on the customer’s behalf.