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ISPs “Let Down” Customers During the Pandemic


Coronavirus lockdowns made Brits more reliant on their broadband connection over the last year, but many found their service wasn’t up to scratch, especially from the largest ISPs.

Which? magazine’s annual customer satisfaction survey found that broadband subscribers faced slow speeds, spotty service and high bills as they turned to the internet for work, education and socialising.

Seven in 10 (71%) respondents said they had used their home internet more since the outbreak of the pandemic, with two-thirds of those reporting their use had increased substantially.

But as the hours we spent online increased, so did the broadband glitches and customer frustration. Seven in 10 (69%) survey respondents said they had experienced problems with their connection over the last 12 months, “significantly" more than the year before, Which? said.

The most common faults were very low speeds, experienced by 59% of respondents, and frequent connection drops, which plagued 53%.

Nearly half (48%) of respondents said their connection had gone down for more than a day and 44% said they had been left without internet for more than an hour.

The UK’s largest broadband providers were among the worst offenders. Collectively, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media provide internet to nine in 10 households, but all four frustrated and failed their customers over the last year.

Virgin Media earned a customer satisfaction score of just 53%, putting it second from the bottom of Which?’s league table, outperforming only department store John Lewis’s broadband service (47% customer satisfaction score).

Virgin delivers internet over its own cable network, which reaches around half of all households and outpaces most FTTC. But those connections often aren’t stable: a third of Virgin customers reported they experienced a broadband outage lasting at least an hour over the last year and nearly a quarter said their download or upload speeds had fallen short.

Sky and TalkTalk performed just marginally better than Virgin, scraping customer scores of 54%. TalkTalk, known for its discount deals, scored well for delivering value for money but had the highest proportion of customers who wouldn’t recommend their ISP to others.

In contrast, Sky was judged poor value for money, charging more than average but then frequently dropping out for a quarter of customers. Sky connections were also slower than expected and tricky to set up. These faults added salt to the wound of price increases, which hit a quarter of Sky customers over the last year. 

Sky customers should brace for further price hikes, which will add up to £6 to broadband and pay-TV customers’ bills from April. But subscribers to other services won’t be spared: nearly all ISPs have scheduled price increases for the spring.

BT performed the best of the four largest providers but earned a customer satisfaction score of just 57%. It was deemed poor value for money and earned mediocre scores on other metrics.

Zen was named the best broadband provider for the second year running but its customer scores dropped from 84% to 70%. Although its tariffs aren’t the cheapest on the market, they do offer reliability and speeds which live up to promises. 85% said they’d recommend Zen to a friend.

Which?’s report was based on a survey of 4,478 broadband subscribers, conducted between 14 December 2020 and 6 January 2021.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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