You could be in line for compensation next time your internet goes down, following an agreement involving some of the UK's biggest broadband providers.
A voluntary code introduced by industry regulator Ofcom states that, from early next year, providers will have to reimburse customers if they lose broadband or landline phone service.
So far, BT, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Zen Internet have signed up to the agreement. Plusnet and EE have also indicated that they may join.
What you'll get
Under the plan, customers will receive £8 per day in compensation when their broadband goes down and the fault takes longer than two days to fix.
In addition, there will be £25 compensation when an engineer misses a scheduled appointment, or cancels within 24 hours.
Plus, customers will receive £5 per day when new services they sign up for do not start on time.
Homes, and small and medium businesses are eligible.
There are some caveats. You won't get compensation if you're the cause of the problem, like if you damage the wiring in your home or are out when the engineer arrives. Most faults are also likely to be fixed inside two days, so you could still experience disruption without being compensated for it.
Openreach are also involved in the scheme, since most faults occur on their network (apart from Virgin Media, who use their own infrastructure). They have said that they won't compensate the broadband suppliers in the event of force majeure events like flooding, leaving the onus on the suppliers themselves to foot the bill in those instances.
After a consultation in Spring 2017, Ofcom published their judgement in November 2017, giving retail and wholesale providers a 15 month deadline by which automatic compensation had to be in place. This means that the very latest we can expect to see the system working is mid-February 2019.
Your consumer rights
The agreement is the latest in a line of measures designed to the experience of broadband users, and ensure we're all getting value for money.
As we spend more and more of our lives online - managing our money and doing our shopping - we're more likely to encounter problems. Viruses, scams and other cyber-crimes are continuing to become more common. So what's the best way to stay safe online? Let's take a look.
1. Install anti-virus software
Anti-virus software is a must if you use Windows (less so for Macs, Chromebooks, phone and tablets). It doesn't just protect you against viruses you can get though email attachments or dodgy downloads; it protects against all malware - any software designed with malicious intent. This includes nasties like spyware that steals your passwords, and ransomware, which locks down your computer unless you pay up.
Free anti-virus software from your broadband provider
A lot of the best broadband providers give you a free, or cheap, anti-virus subscription as part of their deal. If yours is on this list, make sure you take them up on the offer:
BT: with BT you get the McAfee powered BT virus Protect. You can install it on two or up to 15 machines, depending on your package. You also get Web Protect, which checks websites you visit are safe, and True Key, a secure password manager you can install on five devices.
EE: EE Home Broadband gives you a year's subscription to Norton Security Premium for up to 10 devices. After that it costs £39.99 a year, half the normal price.
Plusnet: Plusnet Protect, from McAfee, is free for Unlimited and Unlimited Fibre Extra customers. On the standard Unlimited Fibre deal you'll need to pay an extra £2 a month for your virus protection. You can install it on up to seven PCs.
Sky Broadband: on one of Sky's Unlimited deals you get a 12 month free trial of the McAfee Internet Security suite for up to three PCs. On the limited packages you get three months. Once the trial is up you can keep it going for £3 extra a month.
TalkTalk: with TalkTalk you get HomeSafe, an award winning online security package. This combines some virus protection and parental controls. It isn't a full anti-virus tool, though.
Virgin Media: Virgin Media Security is worth £39.95 a year, but is free to all Virgin Media broadband customers. It gives you full anti-virus coverage for up to three PCs.
Vodafone: with Vodafone you get a free six month sub to F Secure SAFE anti-virus package for up to five devices. After that, you can subscribe for £39.99 a year - half the normal price.
NOW Broadband: with NOW you get the Broadband Buddy service. This helps to protect you against malware-infected sites, but isn't a full anti-virus package.
John Lewis Broadband: John Lewis offers a full subscription to the Bullguard security package for Windows users.
If your supplier isn't on the list, there's loads of free anti-virus tools you can get instead. Bitdefender and Avast are among the most highly rated.
Malware isn't just a concern for those who browse the murkier reaches of the internet. Perfectly benign, mainstream websites can become compromised, and even ads can be crafted to try and do bad things without you even needing to click on them.
2. Keep your software updated
It's so tempting to turn off automatic software updates. They always pop up at the worst possible time, and if it happens to be a Windows update you can write off the next half hour waiting for it to finish.
Except, software updates are really important. Especially the Windows ones.
They don't just bring new features or improved performance, they make your computer more secure. Bugs in software can create the kind of security risks that malware thrives upon. Not only do they allow the malware into your system, they can also enable it to spread from one machine to another.
Updates shut down these vulnerabilities. At the very least, don't turn off updates to Windows or your web browser, such as Google Chrome. Better still, allow all your apps to update as they need to.
3. Learn how to recognise online scams
Malware is designed to exploit weaknesses in computer systems, but the truth is the weakest points of all are us, the users. You can lock down your laptop but it won't stop someone trying to trick you into handing over your passwords.
Phishing scams, as they're called, have moved on a lot since the days of the Nigerian prince who wanted to send you tens of millions of dollars. They're now a whole lot more sophisticated and difficult to spot. And it isn't just online that you need to be wary. You might get a text message purporting to be from your mobile network, or you could get a scam call from your broadband provider.
So, how do you spot scams? Here's a few tips:
Spelling and grammar mistakes in emails are a dead giveaway. Also, does the email greet you by name or a generic title?
Beware of emails demanding urgent action. Scammers try to scare you into responding, like telling you there's been a security alert on your account, or you're overdrawn, and you must log in to fix it.
Be wary of links in emails. Don't assume that the link is going to take you where you think it will.
Or just don't click links at all. Instead of clicking a link to one of your online services, manually type their address into your browser instead. Or pick up the phone and give them a call.
If it sounds suspicious, it probably is. If you didn't buy a lottery ticket, you didn't win the lottery.
Don't assume a fancy website means that a site is reputable. This is a rule to follow when shopping online, too.
Anti-virus software and web browsers will help you to sniff out phishing scams. What better reason to keep them up to date?
4. Use better passwords
We all know the importance of using strong passwords and not re-using them. But it can be difficult, since strong passwords are so much harder to remember. There are three things to try to make your life easier:
Think in terms of passphrases instead of passwords. A sentence of eight random words is easier to remember - and type - than a password of eight random characters, but it's just as hard to crack.
Consider using a password manager. Don't save your passwords in your web browser, use a dedicated password manager instead. This saves all your logins under a single, more secure password. With BT Broadband, the True Key offers exactly this feature and is worth trying out. Alternatively, take a look at LastPass or 1Password, both of which are free.
Use two factor authentication. A large and growing number of services offer two factor authentication. When you log in you need to enter both your password and a second, unique code sent to your phone via an app or text message. It's a lot more secure.
5. Keep an eye on your privacy
Finally, keep an eye on how much information you're sharing online. If you use social networks you're probably sharing a lot more than you realise. Check the Privacy section in Facebook and other services to lock them down, and make sure your kids do this, too.
And speaking of kids, most broadband providers offer some form of parental controls that you can use to manage what people can see, or how long they can go online. These are worth setting up, but remember that they are by no means foolproof.
If you're switching broadband and plan to take advantage of a Black Friday offer, then let us help you with a round-up of the home broadband deals that are available to you over this sale weekend (and beyond).
The availability of some of these deals will depend on where you live, so be sure to use our postcode checker to see what's available in your area.
BT's Black Friday offerings include reduced-price broadband and reward vouchers ranging from £70 to a whopping £140, depending on the package you opt for. Packages are on an 18 month contract with truly unlimited broadband and weekend calls on most deals. There are various broadband and TV combinations, with offered speeds averaging at 10Mb for standard broadband up to 67Mb on Superfast Fibre 2. Offer ends at midnight on the 26th of November.
EE's offer drops the monthly price of your broadband, and gives EE mobile customers a boost to their data allowance. The normal offer is 5GB, but for Black Friday that's been increased to a very tempting 20GB of mobile data. Prices start from £20 a month, with average speeds at 10Mb for standard broadband, 36Mb for Fibre and 67Mb for Fibre Plus. All EE broadband deals are on an 18 month contract, come with truly unlimited downloads and no activation fee, and Anytime calls are available for an extra £5 a month. Offer ends at midnight on the 4th of December.
First Utility are offering a discount that makes their packages some of the cheapest on the market. You can get a deal from £16.99 a month with average speeds of 11Mb on standard broadband, 35Mb on Fibre and 63Mb on the fastest Fibre product. All packages are on an 18 month contract with no activation fees, truly unlimited downloads and a range of call packages. Offers end at 2pm on the 6th of December.
If you live in a Hyperoptic-enabled area, then you can get some excellent hyperfast deals from them, and you don't even need a landline (though there are call options available should you need them). Reduced prices start from just £15 a month, and as Hyperoptic are a full-fibre provider then your expected speeds should be pretty close to their advertised average speeds of 30Mb, 150Mb and 900Mb! All of Hyperoptic's offers come on a 12 month contract, are truly unlimited and have no activation fees. Offer ends midnight on the 5th of December, and be sure to use the BLACKFRIDAY code at checkout to take advantage of the offer.
NOW Broadband's sale includes money off your broadband and comes with the Anytime call package for free (which usually costs an extra £8 a month). Prices start at £18 a month, and average speeds are 11Mb for standard broadband, 36Mb for Fibre and 63Mb for Super Fibre. They've also added extra Broadband and TV combos, so you can now get your choice of broadband with a discount on both the Sky Cinema and Sky Sports passes, as well as the existing offer on the Entertainment pass. All offers are on a 12 month contract, are truly unlimited and the only upfront costs to pay are £9.99 for postage and packaging for the inclusive router. Offer ends midnight on the 6th of December.
Plusnet have a £75 reward card available on their broadband plus phone bundles, as well as reduced monthly prices. Grab a deal from £18.99 a month with average speeds of 10Mb on standard broadband, 36Mb on Fibre and 66Mb on Fibre Extra. All of their Black Friday deals are on an 18 month contract with a fixed price guarantee, are truly unlimited with no activation fees and offer a choice of phone packages. Offer ends midnight on the 27th of November.
TalkTalk have reduced the price of all their packages for Black Friday, with prices starting from just £17 a month and TV packages are available. Average speeds are 11Mb for standard Fast Broadband, 36Mb for Faster Fibre, and 63Mb for the Faster Fibre speed boost. Fast Broadband packages come on a 12 month contract, with the rest on 18 months, and all come with fixed price broadband. Some packages have no activation, while others do come with TV box costs. Offers end at midnight on November the 29th.
Virgin Media have some select offers on for Black Friday, with their lowest ever prices for VIVID 100 plus phone package at only £25, the Full House TV bundle with VIVID 100 at £45 a month, and the VIP TV bundle (that has all the bells and whistles) with VIVID 350 at £75 a month. As Virgin provide their services over cables installed to your building, average speeds can surpass their advertised speeds. Virgin's deals are all unlimited, on a 12 month contract and come with Weekend calls included. There's also a £25 activation fee. Offers end midnight on the 26th of November.
But that's a way off. In the meantime there are steps you can take to ensure you achieve speeds closer to what you were expecting.
You may not know that your Wi-Fi router can have a massive impact on the internet speeds you get throughout your home. Since the provider supplies the router we tend to assume that they're automatically good enough. But that isn't always true - sometimes they're old or slow, and not capable of handling a superfast broadband connection.
In these cases, upgrading to a more powerful router can help speed up your broadband dramatically.
How a new Wi-Fi router can help
Let's start with the technical bit.
The performance of a router is determined by the wireless standard that it uses. The best modern routers use the latest standard, called 802.11ac. It's the fastest available, and it runs on the 5GHz band which is clean and interference free.
802.11ac superceded the 802.11n standard. This is much slower - perhaps half or even a third of the speed - and it commonly runs on the 2.4GHz band which is much more prone to interference from other electrical devices in your home. As a result, the signal is not just slower but it gets much weaker the further it travels.
The router as a bottleneck
Many broadband providers supply an N-rated router with their packages, and it may not be up to the job. Tests show that 802.11n routers have a real world top speed of 50-100Mb, at close range. At a distance of 20 metres, and with a few obstacles like walls and floors in the way, that speed can be slashed in half - or worse.
So, if you've got a high-end fibre package and are getting speeds of 50Mb or more, then an N-rated router simply won't cut it. Your broadband is faster than your router, and the router becomes a bottleneck. Even on an entry-level fibre deal, with speeds of 25Mb, you'll be pushing it. You might find you get good speeds downstairs, but that they fall off sharply in the bedrooms.
In both cases, upgrading to an AC-rated router is likely to give you a major speed boost. The exception is standard broadband. Here, the speeds top out at 16Mb, and in practice are usually somewhat slower. An N-rated router should be able to handle this.
An easy way to check if you're affected is to use our free Speed Test tool. Stand next to your router and run the test on your laptop. Then head to the furthest corner of your house and run it again. If there's a major discrepancy in your results then it could be a sign that you need to upgrade your router. (Or it could mean you need to find a better position for your router.)
Do you need a new router?
You can see why a slow router can mean you don't get the broadband speeds you were expecting. So do you need to upgrade?
When you're shopping for broadband deals, all our comparison tables have icons to show what kind of router you're getting. Click the More Info button to see whether there's an option to upgrade to a better router when you sign up.
What router do you get?
Many of the major providers now supply AC-rated routers with all their packages. This includes TalkTalk, Vodafone and Virgin, while Sky also provides the new Sky Q Hub if you are a TV customer.
BT, Plusnet and EE supply 802.11ac routers with their fibre packages, and N-rated routers with standard broadband. BT offers a paid upgrade for standard broadband customers, but the other two don't.
Origin customers get an N-rated router, and need to pay at checkout to upgrade to a faster AC-rated unit.
If you've been with a provider for some time it's possible you're still using an older N-rated router and aren't getting the fastest possible speeds from your broadband. In this case it's worth checking with the provider to see if they'll swap your router for a newer model for free. Some may give you one in exchange for you signing a new contract. Just make sure you know exactly what you're getting, and that you aren't charged or placed on a new contract without knowing.
Lastly, a handful of providers, including Plusnet, Zen and Origin, allow you to use own router, so you can shop around and check independent reviews to get the best model for your needs.
The router is a frequently overlooked part of the broadband service. It's natural to assume that broadband problems are the fault of the provider, but the reality is that if your router is too slow you can easily be cutting your internet speed in half without even realising.
Give your router a quick check now to see if you would benefit from an upgrade.
We're all keen to shave a few pounds off our monthly bills, so when we're shopping for broadband and find an entry level package that looks the same as the more expensive alternatives, it can prove pretty tempting. Many broadband providers - from the industry's biggest and smallest names alike - offer these. They can be extremely cheap, but they come with pretty hefty restrictions.
Sky make a compelling offer with their cheapest fibre deal. It gives you the opportunity to upgrade to the benefits of fibre broadband and get it completely free for the length of the contract, while paying only line rental. Except there's a catch - you're limited to 25GB of data each month.
BT's lowest priced fibre deal also comes with a 25GB limit, and their cheapest standard broadband just 12GB. Many other providers also impose limits on their most affordable packages, ranging from 100GB down to a paltry 5GB.
Not only do these limits restrict how you can use the internet, they can also prove more expensive in the long run. Exceed your limit on BT, for example, and you'll pay £1.80 for every additional gigabyte you use. The price can rack up quite quickly.
Now, this doesn't mean you should avoid data limited packages outright. For lighter users in smaller households they might be ideal. Just make sure you know how much data you will be using before you sign up.
How much data do you need?
The amount of data you use depends what you do online. Casual browsing, shopping and banking, email and Facebook are not especially data intensive. If that's the extent of your web use, and there's only a couple of people in your household, then you might be okay with a data limit.
Anything media-related, on the other hand, eats through data rapidly. Here's a rough guide to how much data common apps use:
Netflix - the TV streaming service Netflix uses around 1GB of data per hour for standard definition, and 3GB per hour for HD. For BBC iPlayer, you can expect to use 2GB per hour of HD viewing.
Sky TV on demand - On-demand downloads through your Sky box will also count towards your data allowance - even if you use Sky broadband. A typical movie will use 1.5GB of data for SD and 4GB for HD.
Music streaming - The Spotify music streaming service uses around 115MB per hour at the highest quality setting.
Gaming - Tests have shown that online video gaming can use anywhere between 20MB and 200MB, depending on the title. Stream your gameplay over the Twitch service and you'll use up to 1.6GB per hour.
Video calls - Skype can use between around 200-600MB per hour for video calls, although it can be lower depending on the quality of the connection.
And then there are the numerous other things that will burn through a data allowance. Regular updates for your laptop, phone and games console, for example, stretch to several hundred megabytes or more. They may be mandatory, and they may even happen in the background without you realising.
Uploads count, too. use iCloud or OneDrive for your files, back up your important files to DropBox or Google Drive, share your holiday snaps on Facebook or Google Photos, or upload funny videos to YouTube or Snapchat, and that's another chunk of your data gone.
A false economy?
A cheap broadband deal with a monthly data allowance can be tempting - why pay any more than you need to, right? But it can prove to be a false economy, and you certainly shouldn't choose one in the hope that you'll be able to ration your usage.
Some providers, like BT, will start charging the moment you exceed your limit. Others, like Sky, will allow you to go over once every six months, before automatically upgrading your broadband to their more expensive Unlimited package. And in some cases, the difference between limited and unlimited isn't even all that great. At the time of writing you can get an unlimited fibre deal from Plusnet for just £25 more per year than Sky Fibre.
If you're only a light internet user, going online to pay bills and the like, then the cheapest, limited deal may suffice. For everyone else, you'd be better off steering clear and picking the best unlimited deal that suits your needs.
December 2015 saw average download speeds for fixed line providers recorded by users of our broadband speed test remain stable in comparison to the results from November, coming in at 20.56Mb. Average upload speeds saw a 0.15Mb drop to 3.68Mb.
Of the big 5 home broadband providers, Virgin Media remained in first place but their average download speeds appear to have levelled out since rolling out their 200Mb service, remaining stable at 46.57Mb, with upload speeds at 5.66Mb. BT Broadband retain second place with average download and upload speeds steady at 17.58Mb and 4.42Mb respectively. TalkTalk move up to third place, with download speeds stable at 12.8Mb and upload speeds dropping by 0.21Mb to 1.86Mb. Plusnet drop into fourth place, dropping by 0.59Mb to 12.6Mb for average download speeds with a 0.39Mb decrease to 2.85Mb for average upload speeds. Finally, Sky remain in fifth place with a 1.1Mb fall in download speeds to 10.92Mb, while their upload speeds decreased by 0.41Mb to 2.47Mb.
Results from users testing with mobile-enabled devices including phones and tablets suggests that mobile broadband speeds saw an overall rise since November. Taking mobile broadband separately from home broadband, EE Mobile retain first place, with download speeds increasing by 1.1Mb to 17.55Mb and upload speeds holding at 3.87Mb. Vodafone are in second place, seeing download speeds fall slightly by 0.19Mb to 13.76Mb and upload speeds steady at 2.82Mb. O2 are in third place with download speeds at 11.78Mb - a respectable 1.4Mb increase over last month - and upload speeds at 2.53Mb. Three are still in fourth place, with average download speeds of 9.84Mb and upload speeds of 2.56Mb.
When mobile broadband and home broadband average speeds compete on the same table, 4GEE is head-to-head with BT's second place with a difference of only 0.03Mb. 4GEE and Vodafone mobile broadband sit in overall 3rd and 4th places beating all home broadband providers' averages bar Virgin Media and BT. This suggests that 4G broadband may have higher uptake levels relative to 3G compared to uptake of the fastest possible fibre broadband products relative to cheaper options.
This month's supplementary broadband providers table (see page 4 of the report) found Post Office Broadband had the UK's slowest broadband speed overall with only 2.55Mb average downloads and only 0.33Mb average uploads. Hyperoptic was fastest overall with 102.1Mb average downloads and 92.13Mb uploads.
Despite not having celebrated a family holiday yesterday, Britain still gets to enjoy America's traditional equivalent to the January sales, Black Friday, with headline grabbing special offers available not just today, but all weekend and on Monday too.
This year several broadband suppliers have jumped onto the Black Friday bandwagon and are offering some record breaking special offers, some of the best we've ever seen.
Offers only apply to new customers of the relevant broadband provider who sign up online who do not need a new telephone line or number. Minimum contracts apply for all deals. Line rental required on all but Hyperoptic's deals. Setup costs and additional charges may apply. Offers may be restricted to particular coverage areas. Rewards must be claimed online after activation. One reward per household. Unless otherwise stated, offers are valid until the end of 2015-11-30. Offers may be withdrawn or amended at any time. Click through to the providers' websites for further details, terms and conditions and confirmation of eligibility.
October 2015 saw average download speeds for fixed line providers recorded by users of our broadband speed test rise by 2.76Mb in comparison to the results from September, coming in at 21.88Mb. Average upload speeds saw a 0.4Mb increase to 4.65Mb.
Virgin Media's average download speeds rose by 6.31Mb to 48.66Mb, with upload speeds also improving to 6.64Mb. Virgin have recently begun rolling out their 200Mb service for new and existing customers, which accounts for the significant increase in download speeds.
BT Broadband retain second place with average download speeds increasing by 1.32Mb to 18.84Mb, and upload speeds increasing by 0.45Mb to 5.59Mb. Plusnet hold third place, remaining stable at 15.09Mb for average download speeds with only a 0.33Mb decrease to 4.25Mb for average upload speeds. TalkTalk stay in fourth place, with download speeds at 12.89Mb and upload speeds at 2.32Mb. Finally, Sky are in fifth place with a 0.87Mb rise in download speeds, putting them at 12.76Mb, while their upload speeds increased by 0.38Mb to 3.64Mb.
With the recent improvements to our speed test, we're now able to record results from mobile users on their phones and tablets. EE Mobile are in first place, with download speeds averaging at 17.81Mb and upload speeds at 5.36Mb. Vodafone are in second place, with download speeds at 12.95Mb and upload speeds at 3.79Mb. O2 are in third place with download and upload speeds at 11.03Mb and 3.81Mb respectively. This leaves Three in fourth place, with average download speeds of 9.03Mb and upload speeds of 3.45Mb.
March 2015 saw average download speeds recorded by users of our Broadband Speed Test drop slightly by 0.32Mb in comparison to the results from February, coming in at 21.11Mb. Average upload speeds remained stable at 4.22Mb.
Virgin Media's average download speeds dropped by a further 1.29Mb to 39.69Mb, with upload speeds remaining stable at 5.34Mb. BT Broadband hold second place with average download and upload speeds remaining stable at 19.85Mb and 5.81Mb. Plusnet remain in third place, with download speeds taking a 1.15Mb hit down to 14.59Mb with a 0.29Mb increase to 5.08Mb for average upload speeds. TalkTalk stay in fourth place, with download speeds increasing by 0.78Mb to 14.26Mb and upload speeds holding stable at 1.76Mb. Finally, Sky are in fifth place with a 0.57Mb decrease to download speeds, putting them at 12.8Mb, with upload speeds falling slightly to 3.24Mb.
February 2015 saw average download speeds recorded by users of our Broadband Speed Test drop by 0.48Mb in comparison to the results from January, coming in at 21.43Mb. Average upload speeds saw a 0.23Mb increase to 4.32Mb.
Virgin Media's average download speeds dropped again by 0.63Mb to 40.98Mb, with upload speeds remaining stable at 5.5Mb. BT Broadband remain second place with average download speeds dropping by 0.53Mb to 19.87Mb, though upload speeds increased by 0.29Mb to 5.97Mb. Plusnet hold third place, remaining stable at 15.74Mb for average download speeds with a 0.38Mb increase to 4.78Mb for average upload speeds. TalkTalk are also stable in fourth place, with download speeds at 13.22Mb and upload speeds at 1.75Mb. Finally, Sky are in fifth place with a strong 1.34Mb increase to download speeds, putting them at 13.37Mb, with upload speeds increased by 0.49Mb to 3.44Mb.