Switching broadband provider: how to find cheaper deals and faster download speeds

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More kids or better tech slowing down your home internet? It’s not difficult to change your broadband provider – find out how with our in-depth guide

If you haven’t switched broadband in the last few years, you might be missing out on cost savings and better speed and service.

Did you know that fibre-optic broadband coverage has significantly expanded in recent years, and is now available to nearly 96% of the country? New providers are often joining the market, while existing firms offer new deals and packages in order to stay competitive. Your existing provider may have even increased your monthly price if you’ve stayed with them longer than your original contract – so you might be overpaying for slow speeds.

Can I switch?

First things first – check your contract or contact your provider to establish whether you’ve completed your ‘minimum term’. The vast majority of broadband providers sign customers up to a minimum contract of 12, 18 or even 24 months – though there are some that offer contract free or short-term options. Leaving early could land you with a heavy cancellation fee that offsets the cost benefits of switching in the first place.

There are some ways around this fee, however. If your monthly bill has recently been raised by more than the line of inflation, act quickly. You can cancel your service without any penalties within 30 days of being notified about the change.

Planning a change because of terrible connection? You may be able to wiggle your way out of any cancellation fees if download speeds are much lower than you were originally promised. Proving this breach of contract can be tough, though.

It’s worth contacting your current provider if you can – they may offer a cheaper deal or another incentive in the hopes you’ll stay.

Where do I find the best deal?

Ready to switch? Check trustworthy Which, as well as uSwitch, Moneysupermarket and other price comparison sites. You might be able to find unique deals by going direct to the provider, too. Make sure to ask for a speed estimate for your address, check if there are any extra charges for the router or initial connection or setup, and make sure you have the correct total monthly cost.

What download speed to I need?

This largely depends on how you spend your time online. While ‘standard’ broadband used to be the norm in the UK, more expensive super-and ultrafast packages are becoming more popular as people spend more time watching Netflix or playing online games.

BBC iPlayer, for example, requires 2Mbps of sustained bandwidth for standard-definition watching. Netflix needs 1.5Mbps at an absolute minimum and can require 5Mbps for high definition. ‘Standard’ broadband can usually deal with these speeds, though.

Ultra HD requires more – typically 15Mbps for YouTube and 25Mbps for Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. This is where we get well into fibre broadband territory. These higher speeds are definitely best if you download lots of content for games, play online, make video-calls via Skype or have multiple people watching on-demand video or catch-up TV at the same time on different devices. Get this covered, and everything else – general browsing, streaming music – will run smoothly.

Can I escape line rental charges?

Do you still use your landline? If not, it can be frustrating having to pay for line rental as part of your broadband package, or even changing providers at the same time as your internet switch.

This is tough to avoid, though, as most providers still use your phone line to deliver broadband to your home through BT Openreach's copper wire telephone network. This delivery requires an active phone line, which means line rental is included in the broadband package. Virgin Media is the only major UK provider to offer broadband without a phone line. But this doesn’t necessarily make its packages cheaper – so shop around.

Watch out for ‘Broadband-only’ deals that say you don’t need to pay for a landline. Often, this means you just don’t need to pay your internet provider for a landline, but still need to make sure it works – actually sending your money elsewhere!

Who do I need to contact?

There are now two different broadband switching processes in the UK, largely depending on which providers you’re switching between. It’s best to reach out to the provider you’ll be moving to to find out which.

If you’re switching between companies on the Openreach telecoms network – BT, EE, Sky and TalkTalk, to name a few – your new provider will arrange the whole transfer for you. This is dubbed the ‘gaining provider led process.’ One you’ve contacted your new provider to kick this off, both they and the provider you’re leaving must send you a notification letter. This will contain any early termination charges that are due.

If you’re switching to or from a cable or fibre-to-the-premise provider – like Virgin Media – you’ll have to contact your old provider to cancel your contract, as well as your new one. This is a ‘cease and re-provide process’. Your old provider will need to notify you of the end of your current contract (plus any associated charges), while your new provider will send you a brand new one.

Can I change my mind?

You always have 14 days from the start of your new contract to cancel your switch without being charged.