Families at war broadband: Home internet use soars under lockdown

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Online battles: Fiona and Steve Scott with family are one of the many households  plagued by broadband problems while stuck at home


The poor internet connection in Fiona Scott’s house has been the cause of many arguments since the lockdown began.

Each day, the family of five must decide who gets priority as their broadband cannot cope with them all using it at once.

The Scotts are not alone, they are just one of the many families plagued by broadband problems while stuck at home.

Online battles: Fiona and Steve Scott with family are one of the many households  plagued by broadband problems while stuck at home

Fiona, 54, a media consultant from Swindon in Wiltshire, says she is regularly disconnected from important video meetings if another member of household connects to the internet on another device. 

Her husband Steve, also 54, works in telecoms from home, while her children Sammi, 20, Georgia, 18, and David, 13, have university and school work to complete.

She says: ‘If David is having a Spanish or maths lesson via video, I can’t get cross. But it is hard when I am being paid by the hour for my time and it takes three hours to do something because I keep getting cut off.’

Experts say the pandemic has exposed the antiquated state of Britain’s infrastructure and are urging ministers to press ahead with vital improvements.

Home broadband usage has now gone up to an average 41 hours a week — a rise of almost a third (29 per cent) since lockdown, according to comparison site Uswitch. And one in five households experienced problems with their internet last month.

Home broadband usage has now gone up to an average 41 hours a week — a rise of almost a third (29 per cent) since lockdown, according to comparison site Uswitch

Home broadband usage has now gone up to an average 41 hours a week — a rise of almost a third (29 per cent) since lockdown, according to comparison site Uswitch

Slow speeds and a poor connection were the most common problems reported, with just under half of those affected saying their internet has cut out at times. A third say they were often unable to get online at all.

Complaints to online dispute service Resolver about broadband have also doubled since lockdown. Two months ago it would deal with about 200 cases a week, but by the last week of April it was 484.

The average UK household has up to five devices — iPads, laptops or smartphones — connected to the net at the same time. For families, this rises to seven, Uswitch says.

To stream a film on Netflix, you would usually need a broadband speed of at least three megabits per second (Mbps). Standard broadband packages typically offer 10-11 Mbps.

Watchdog Ofcom has said about 189,000 UK properties are unable to get more than 10 Mbps. As of March, households and businesses can request an upgraded connection if they cannot get this.

Ultra-fast fibre broadband can offer average speeds of 300 Mbps.

The Government pledged to bring full fibre internet to 15 million households by 2025, and to the whole country by 2033. 

How to beat slow speeds

If you signed up to broadband from BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk or Virgin Media after March 1, 2019, you can cancel penalty-free if your service drops below the promised minimum speed.

If you took out broadband before that date, you must wait until your contract ends.

Test your speed at (uswitch.com/broadband/speedtest) and use the results to complain to your provider, which then has 30 days to improve.

Some firms have signed up to regulator Ofcom’s code of conduct. This means they must provide a minimum guaranteed download speed and reflect peak-time speeds.

Keep a log of interrupted service to show to your provider. If it does not help, go to a dispute resolution scheme — either Ombudsman Services or CISAS.

Draw up a family rota, and if your provider allows it, pause broadband on certain devices at set times.

Lock your Wi-Fi with a password. The more people who log on the slower it will be.

Move the router. Walls and microwaves can block signals and broadband accelerators can improve speeds.

But Covid-19 has slowed this. The launch of the ultra-fast 5G mobile network has also been hit.

But Fiona, who pays Three Broadband £25 a month for 25 Mbps average speed, says connections are often worse in the afternoon. 

If one or two of them are online, others cannot even send an email. She has had to confiscate her children’s phones after finding they had been streaming television programmes in the day.

Fiona says: ‘We have had to stagger daytime activity. It has caused many arguments.’

Three Broadband says the Scotts usually get speeds of 20-60 Mbps which is good for day-to-day activities and video conferences. 

The average UK household has up to five devices — iPads, laptops or smartphones — connected to the net at the same time. For families, this rises to seven

The average UK household has up to five devices — iPads, laptops or smartphones — connected to the net at the same time. For families, this rises to seven

But it has offered to investigate. A spokesman says: ‘We are seeing an increased demand on our network. Our teams are working hard to maintain capacity and keep everyone connected.’

Social media consultant Anna Rump, 38, had no issues with her Virgin Media broadband before lockdown, but now has a ‘glitchy’ service that halts video meetings and freezes her work documents.

Anna, of Norwich, says: ‘I have no business without the internet.’

She pays £38 a month for fibre broadband which should run at an average 108 Mbps. A Virgin Media spokesman says the network is able to deal with extra demand but will send an engineer to Anna.

And Laura Dean’s provider Gigaclear boasts of ultrafast broadband in rural areas. Yet in lockdown only one person can use the internet at a time in her home in Aldermaston, Berkshire.

It means that Laura, who runs a travel firm, cannot update her website or post on social media while husband Adrian takes video calls. 

Laura, 38, says: ‘It gets bad from 8.30pm, and I can’t even load up my website.’ Gigaclear says that multiple devices using Wi-Fi simultaneously may lead to performance issues.

Jonathan Leggett, of comparison site Broadbandchoices, says Britain’s outage problem is partly due to a shortage of engineers but believes that the virus ‘has exposed the UK’s slow pace of infrastructure improvements’.

A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesman says: ‘We are determined to deliver on our gigabit commitment and are removing the barriers to industry and accelerating broadband rollout as well as investing £5 billion so the hardest to reach areas aren’t left behind.’

a.murray@dailymail.co.uk

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