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Leader: Why are we so unhappy with fat pipes?

Time to polish up broadband Britain
Written by silicon.com staff, Contributor on

Time to polish up broadband Britain

Back in the heady late 90s, broadband was for the rich and tech savvy. Now it's gone down the commoditisation route and it's being given away for free.

Since the millennium, the progress of broadband Britain has been astounding - speeds are up, coverage is nigh on 100 per cent and prices are most definitely down - led by the emergence of 'free' broadband providers.

For those on the wrong side of the digital divide, the free offers provided by Orange, Sky, TalkTalk et al have made fat pipe connectivity a little more affordable. For most of those not connected to the broadband network, it's a question of not wanting to, rather than not having the option.

And what have we gained as prices plummeted? Free broadband is not, after all, free in the truest sense - users must tie themselves to a phone line or other services to get their discounted broadband.

And those on such free services have also found themselves saddled with the smallest download limits and slowest speeds for their trouble, as ISPs try and persuade users to upgrade.

And, as research has revealed, customer satisfaction levels are diving. For those on the 'free' side of the fence, there is dissatisfaction at long delays to get switched on and after sales support once the connection's been established. For those on the other side, with more established players, there's dissatisfaction that pricing hasn't necessarily headed downwards as much as the entrance of 'free' players into the market might have suggested.

It's a problem they better sort out quickly - around 25 per cent of consumers quizzed in the research said they are ready to ditch their ISP for someone new - or risk seeing their customers haemorrhaging to rivals.

Some may question whether the service providers have the reserves to invest in customer service. In the recent broadband feeding frenzy, ISPs have been spending their cash piles on local loop unbundling, customer acquisition, consolidation - how much left is left in the bank to tackle their creeping customer service woes?

Nevertheless, invest they must or risk not only losing customers but souring the platform they hope to use to deliver higher value services. The only option to keep dissatisfied customers would be to make contracts even longer and more stringent - and then broadband Britain would truly have hit a new low.

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