It has never been more important to get expert advice prior to signing a broadband contract.
The Daily Mail reported this week on the story of Will Pierce who took his son on a skiing trip for five days and came home to a £22,000 mobile broadband bill from Vodafone. He had used his Vodafone dongle to download a relatively small amount of TV programming at £300 per minute. So one eighteen minute TV programme cost him a shocking £5,000.
As Mr Pierce rightly points out: ‘There’s no warning when you log on how much it will cost a minute, or a counter on the screen telling you what it is costing. If you ran up such a bill on your credit card while overseas you’d get a call checking that it is you who is spending so much.’ So this is a serious situation – not only is there no warning message as you download of impending “bill shock” – but also customers’ awareness of these enormous potential charges is very limited.
People recognise that if they use their mobile phone abroad it costs more, but not hundreds of times more. So as mobile broadband subscriptions become ever more popular, many more mobile broadband users will fall into the same trap as Mr Pierce. And there are plenty of other “hidden costs” to be aware of before taking the plunge with a long term broadband deal.
Earlier this month TalkTalk the home phone and broadband provider complained to Ofcom about BT’s use of “rolling contracts”. February marked the first birthday of BT’s rolling contract scheme, meaning that unless BT customers notify BT that they no longer want BT’s service – they will automatically be signed up to a new full term contract and be forced to pay up to £180 if they then want to leave.
This is contrary to the usual practice that a contract expires at the end of the contract period, leaving the customer free to leave from that point on.
The high cost of broadband technical support lines can also lead to unexpected bills. Earlier this month a Which? survey of 45 companies including many ISPs found that while some offer free technical support (including O2, BT and Sky), many are using premium rate numbers. Key broadband culprits include Tesco Broadband, Supanet and Roxio who all use premium rate 090 numbers.
As a result, Tesco Broadband customers were paying £5 for a 10 minute call to Tesco’s help desk. Tesco have already responded to the criticism, and have said that it is moving the fee to a local rate.
Charlie Ponsonby CEO of the digital TV, broadband and home phone price comparison service Simplifydigital.co.uk said: “We believe that it is very important to talk to an impartial expert before signing up to a broadband, home phone or digital TV provider – we spend a great deal of time explaining to customers the hidden costs that they need to be aware of before taking the plunge”.
Simplifydigital’s research shows that other hidden charges that typically surprise customers include: charges for paper billing; poorly communicated install charges; and early termination charges.
Top Broadband Buying Tips
- Not all advertised deals, will be available in your area. The deals available in your area depend on whether a supplier has put their own equipment into the BT telephone exchanges in order to provide their broadband services (a process known as local loop unbundling’). This enables them to provide better value deals. So a cheap looking deal advertised in national press for example, may not be available to you.
- Watch out for price hikes at the end of the introductory period. Many suppliers offer introductory period discounts in order to entice you in, but it’s important to calculate the value of the package over the contract length to ensure that you’re getting the best deal.
- Watch out for overly long and rolling contracts. Some suppliers offer deals that are only available if you commit to an 18 or 24 month contract and leave you unable to switch within that time (without paying a penalty). And watch out also for rolling contracts as per the BT example described above.
- Ensure the cost of line rental is included in the headline deal price. Most home broadband or home phone packages require a BT land line and landline rental is typically about £10 per month.
- Make sure you know the cost of technical support. If you broadband service does go wrong, you can quickly rack up a significant amount of time talking to technical support. O2, BT and Sky offer free technical support, but many providers do not