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UK Citizens Advice Accuses Broadband ISPs of False Price Promises

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 (2:16 pm) - Score 363

The Citizens Advice agency has once again criticised the way in which some home broadband ISPs promote their services, such as via allegedly “hidden charges” like phone line rental, starter fees and router delivery costs.

The gripes appear to be broadly similar to the last time that the agency raised this problem in December 2014 (here). In fairness most ISPs have, after some battering from the Advertising Standards Authority, finally become a lot clearer with their promotions and now state much more prominently when things like “line rental” are required.

Never the less Citizens Advice claims that ISPs are “misleading customers and costing them up to six and a half times more than adverts imply“, with consumers apparently said to be paying as much as £20 more a month for their broadband package than advertised.

The consumer charity is thus calling on broadband providers to be upfront about the price consumers will actually pay, and is asking the Advertising Standards Authority to introduce new rules ensuring broadband deals are transparent; even though they already have those (example) and have been using them quite frequently, albeit with mixed results.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

Broadband providers are cashing in on false promises. With some people paying up to six and a half times more a month for broadband than advertised, customers are being sold one thing and charged another.

Confusing teaser rates and hidden costs make it difficult to work out whether you’re getting a good deal. Internet providers need to be upfront about broadband costs, ensuring adverts are transparent and people know what they’re signing up to.

Some broadband firms are starting to accept that prices need to be clearer. Now the whole industry needs to up its game – and the Advertising Standards Authority should help by setting new, clear rules.”

It’s interesting to note that the agency does praise some providers, such as TalkTalk’s new FTTP service in York and Relish’s wireless network in London, for giving consumers a simple “all in” price for their service. But this is perhaps somewhat of an apple to oranges style comparison because different infrastructures require a different approach.

By contrast not all ISPs on BTOpenreach’s network, such as those offering fixed line ADSL or FTTC services, require you to take phone line rental from the same provider. Admittedly if all ISPs required a mandatory bundle then an “all in” price would be easy, but they don’t and the wider market is more flexible and diverse than that.

On the other hand there is still room for improvement and some providers, such as BT, could certainly do more on this front as they have a nasty habit of hiding post-contract term price increases in the convoluted small print at the bottom of their website.

For example, at the moment you can order the Unlimited BTInfinity 1 + Weekend Calls bundle for £10 per month on a 12 month contract, with the package promotion clearly stating that line rental of £16.99 per month is payable on-top alongside a £35 one-off activation fee.

A consumer looking at that will assume the same pricing should apply from the end of their contract as the discount level isn’t clear. But it’s only if you scroll right down to the bottom and through reams of small print that the following is stated “You’ll pay £25 a month from month 13,” which isn’t even very clear about what that cost actually includes.

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