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Connectivity without complexity: putting consumers first

We believe it’s time for the broadband and mobiles industries to truly put the consumer first.

Innovations in telecoms have fundamentally changed the way we connect with those that matter most, shaping everything from our shared experiences to how we interact with the world and people around us. However, from patchy phone reception to the frustration of constant buffering, we believe there are still far too many needless frustrations consumers have to grapple with.

The government and industry is pushing ahead with plans to improve the UK’s infrastructure — which is great news for our future. But we passionately believe that as we progress from 4G and superfast fibre to 5G and ultrafast full fibre — and beyond — this must be a journey for everyone. We’re calling for the industry to give the facts, remove the hoops customers have to jump through and ensure everyone gets brought up to speed.

Uswitch-connectivity

What are we calling for?

We're calling on the broadband and mobiles industries to put the consumer first by implementing these changes:

  • Give the facts
    • Property-specific broadband speeds
    • Network coverage maps
    • End of contract notifications
    • Making data usage easier to see

Knowledge is power — and we believe it’s time to put that knowledge in the hands of consumers so they can make informed decisions about which mobile and broadband service is going to work best for them. Too often the really useful information is presented, but not always in the easiest to find or most useful place. Instead of requiring customers to call up and ask, search multiple places online or dig out the T&Cs, if customers were being put first, we believe providers would surface these details so you’d be able to easily find and quickly see — at a glance — the information you care most about. We believe it is time for the telecoms industry to be more upfront when it comes to sharing the information that really matters, including:

  • Property-specific broadband speeds: Instead of offering a broadband package at a certain generic tier — typically “up to” 17Mbps, 38Mbps or 76Mbps that only 10% of us can actually get — providers now have to give average speeds, meaning 50% of us will be able to get the advertised speed. This is a step in the right direction, but when choosing a broadband service, what we all want to know first and foremost is what speeds are available at our own homes. Only then can we decide if the service represents good value and if it’s right for us. This critical information does exist, though frustratingly, it is currently only shared deep into the purchasing journey. In our view that’s too far down the line and makes it difficult to weigh-up different options.

We believe the industry can and should do better, and that this information should be made available up front and shared when consumers need it most: when they’re comparing which service is right for their home.

  • Network coverage maps: When it comes to how we select our mobile network, for many of us, the very first thing we want to know is whether it works at home, in the office or college. It doesn’t matter how good the deal or the freebies are if it doesn’t actually work. Unlike purchasing broadband, where you enter your postcode to find out if a service is available in your area, mobile networks don’t currently have to display their service availability at any point during a purchase. Instead, they just offer an optional coverage map hosted on their website.

We believe mobile networks should share their coverage availability so consumers can see at a glance what networks will work best in their area.

  • End of contract notifications: We all love a great deal and loyalty should be rewarded, so surely your provider will let you know when you’re nearing the end of your contract so you can take stock and decide if you want to stay put, upgrade or shop around. Right? Wrong. The industry currently has no obligation to inform consumers of when their contract is coming to an end. We believe it’s time for the telecoms industry to catch up with other sectors — such as energy and insurance — and remind customers when their contract is coming to an end. Not only could this help consumers avoid getting hit with out of contract broadband prices or overpaying for their handset, it also acts as a neat little prompt to consider if there is a better suited or better value deal.

We believe providers should offer end of contract notifications as standard.

  • Making data usage easier to see: Although most providers do offer this information, for many, finding your typical data usage could be easier. What we’d like to see is mobile networks being more open with their customers, highlighting more prominently their average data usage and max data used in a month so they can more easily make better informed decisions about whether they’re on the right plan.

Some providers do this already — we’d like to see this become the norm.

Giving consumers the facts is only the start of the battle. Ofcom recently laid out plans for text to switch for mobiles and auto compensation for broadband service outages and missed appointments, which are both wins for customers — but there’s still more to be done if the customer is to truly be put first.

  • Comms switch guarantee: For current accounts — thanks to the Current Account Switch Guarantee — banks organise and handle the switch between themselves, meaning the customer doesn’t have to get involved. So instead of changing direct debit information across employers, utilities and other payments, consumers need only fill out two forms and the rest of the switch is handled entirely by the banks — all within seven days and backed by a guarantee for the very unlikely event something goes wrong.

We believe a similar scheme for telecoms services tying together the various different process could make a real difference to consumers and give more of us the confidence to move.

  • Auto compensation: When it comes to broadband outages, time is money. From early 2019, providers will start giving out automatic compensation for missed appointments and outages, which is great news, but until then, consumers hit by downtime are stuck wasting time — and money.

We hope the introduction of automatic compensation will act as a meaningful incentive for providers to work harder to keep you happy.

  • Cancel the way you purchased: You’ve done your research, you see a good offer and you’re ready to purchase. You’re online, you fill in your details and ‘click’: purchase made. It’s all brilliantly straightforward — so why is it that if you’re wanting to cancel, there's a fair chance you’ll need to put in a call and negotiate with a master of retention as they battle to keep you? We believe in a ‘cancel the way you joined’ policy. Instead of fighting to keep you at the last hurdle, this would encourage providers to be more proactive, working harder to keep you happy so you'll not want to leave in the first place. And there’s a flurry of innovative services — such as TV streaming services — that have embraced this flexible, transparent and consumer first approach.

We think it’s time the broadband and mobiles industries followed suit, committing to allow consumers to cancel the way they joined.

The government has been pushing the idea of a full fibre future for the UK including committing some public money to upgrading our digital infrastructure. Superfast broadband is available to 95% of the premises in the country, and mobile networks cover 90% of the country geographically — but despite this, we still risk consumers being left behind.

It isn’t enough to put new masts up or new cables in the ground - consumers have to upgrade to them. New services should to be straightforward to buy, not cost prohibitive, and the benefits should be well communicated to ensure that as much of country can benefit from investment as possible.

Too many consumers suffer from broadband speeds that are slower than what they signed up for or are plagued by patchy coverage on their mobile. Our research shows that one in five people struggle with broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps on standard connections and half of consumers living in rural areas report problems making calls from their mobile while indoors, with one out of every five calls being patchy. Is there a better way?

  • Ensure entry-level fibre is an attractive option: As we progress toward a full fibre future, entry-level fibre options are ideal for many households, giving a welcomed boost in reliability and speed compared to traditional ADSL broadband. Fibre broadband was once considered an expensive luxury, but it’s now far more affordable than consumers might think. Ofcom must continue with rules to get entry-level wholesale broadband prices to drop. We believe it’s critical that entry-level fibre packages reflect this adjustment; so more consumers feel ready to consider an upgrade from ADSL.

We encourage providers to commit to entry-level fibre being kept affordable to ensure it is an attractive upgrade option.

  • Implement the Universal Service Obligation: Under the proposed Universal Service Obligation, the ability to request broadband speeds of 10Mbps is set to become a legal right by 2020, no matter where you are in the country. It is important the government sees this through and does not compromise on this issue. In today’s digital world, access to decent broadband is critical for everyone. But this must not be misrepresented as automatically upgrading all standard broadband connections to 10Mbps — consumers will have to upgrade to different services, such as fibre-based broadband.

We believe it is important the government sees through its plans to deliver the proposed Universal Service Obligation.

  • Let consumers know what broadband is available at their own home: Despite superfast broadband being available to nearly the entire country, our research found that only 57% of consumers believe they can access superfast broadband in their area. Superfast services are available at over half of the postcodes suffering from the slowest broadband in the UK, but many consumers just aren’t aware it’s an option. If providers were to share property-specific broadband speeds upfront, consumers would be able to see exactly what services and speeds are available where it matters most — at their own home. Being able to compare what they have now against what they could have delivers a significantly improved and more meaningful comparison, aiding the selection of the best suited service for their needs.

We’re calling on providers share property-specific broadband speeds to enable a more meaningful comparison of services.

While the benefits of investment in full fibre and 5G initiatives are unquestioned, the telecoms industry — regulators and providers alike — needs to ensure that consumers aren’t being left behind on this journey. They must never feel they’re paying for upgrades that they aren’t benefiting from, nor should consumers ever feel let down or be so frustrated that they lose faith in the good work happening to upgrade our infrastructure. By giving the facts and removing the hoops consumers have to jump through to purchase, access, upgrade or switch their broadband and mobile services, we will ensure that this is a journey for everyone. Trust and satisfaction amongst consumers will be improved and the industry could stand as a beacon of inspiration for a new kind of customer-first innovation.

What you can do now

Check your broadband speeds to see if your actual download speeds match the estimate you were given, and see how your speeds stack up against your neighbours to see if you could be getting faster fibre broadband.

Avoid paying out of contract prices by setting up a broadband and mobile contract reminder. Find out when it’s time for you to start looking at either recontracting with your current provider or finding a better broadband package for your household or a new mobile contract.

What we're doing at uSwitch

We’re working hard to raise awareness of these issues, set out the benefit of these changes, and push providers, the government and Ofcom to make them happen to improve things for you.

In the past, we’ve called for end of contract notifications, network coverage maps, property-specific broadband speeds and implementation of the Universal Service Obligation.

For media enquiries, contact our PR team.