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ISP TalkTalk Warn of Uncertain Future as UK Broadband Users Fall UPDATE

Monday, Dec 11th, 2023 (8:41 am) - Score 19,760
TalkTalk-Logo-in-Office-Next-to-Balloons

UK ISP TalkTalk has published their annual accounts to 28th Feb 2023 and revealed that their broadband base fell to 3.94 million (down from 3.98m in 2022), while the provider’s bosses also reportedly warned that there is “material uncertainty” ahead of an expect debt refinancing that “may cast significant doubt” over its future.

The long-running internet provider could be said to have had somewhat of a rocky 2023 (here, here, here and here), which has been fuelled in no small part by a desire to get their c.£1bn mountain of debt under control. This is crucial because TalkTalk are likely to be hit by a sharp increase in borrowing costs (due to rising interest rates) when it refinances its debts in early 2024.

NOTE: Back in 2020 TalkTalk became the subject of a £1.1bn takeover by Toscafund (here), which including debt valued the business at around £1.8bn. The provider’s existing debt will ultimately mature in November 2024 and February 2025.

In response, the ISP has cut some jobs, sold off some assets (e.g. some IPv4 addresses), demerged the group into three separate businesses (for consumers, businesses and wholesale) and most recently sold off their business division (TT Business Direct) to its own shareholders for £95 million – with wholesale potentially being the next to go.

According to a separate piece in the Telegraph (paywall), the provider’s bosses have now warned that they face “material uncertainty” ahead of a crucial debt refinancing that “may cast significant doubt” over its ability to continue. But their annual results said the ISP remained “confident that our efficient cost base, critical infrastructure network and competitive access to UK connectivity will enable us to maintain our low-priced market position and grow the business sustainably and profitably over time.” Mind you, company accounts often paint an excess of positivity over difficult situations, until they don’t.

The results admittedly only cover the period up to 28th Feb 2023, which means they don’t fully reflect a lot of the changes that have happened since then (e.g. customer declines and rising debt). For example, net debt is listed as being £892m in the results (2022: £859m), but the latest Telegraph piece suggests this has now risen again to £973m excluding leases (i.e. £81m burnt in the first half of the year).

The company warns that if it has not secured refinancing by August 2024, it will be at risk of breaching its debt covenants.

A TalkTalk spokesperson said:

“TalkTalk Group’s demerger and refinancing plan is firmly on track, with operational separation now complete and formal commercial separation to follow in 2024. PlatformX is the fastest-growing wholesale platform in the UK with an unrivalled mix of altnets and propositions. We’re in active discussions with a number of investors who also see the growth opportunity this presents.”

We’ve gone into TalkTalk latest accounts and summarised some of the key figures below.

Key Details – Summary of Year to 28th Feb 2023

Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of £24.45 (2022: £24.23)

Revenue £1,457m (2022: £1,455m)

Gross profit £741m (2022: £778m)

Loss before tax £70m (2022: £31m)

Net debt £892m (2022: £859m), rising to £1.6bn including leases (2022: £1.56bn)

3.94 million broadband customers (2022: 3.98m), but in 2019 they had 4.29m

3.35 million Fibre (FTTC/P) customers (2022: 3.33m) and in 2019 they had just 1.77m

2,062 employees

69,365 Ethernet customers

90,000 business customers (TT Business Direct)

UK’s largest wholesale broadband provider, with over 60% share via 400 partners

Still home to a few tens of thousands of customers on legacy mobile (MVNO) contracts (they stopped doing mobile some years ago)

Sold some IPv4 addresses for £33m

Customer base declined by around 40,000 in the year (a reduction of 89,000 in their Consumer Direct base) – driven by the removal of some non-paying customers and an increase in churn from 1.6% to 1.7%.

Tipped over 10Tbps (Terabits per second) of peak network usage in the year

Finally, the group has reportedly already received offers for its wholesale division, such as from infrastructure funds including Florida-based DigitalBridge. The name should be familiar because they also back one of the UK market’s leading alternative full fibre network providers, Netomnia (YouFibre), which could open up some intriguing possibilities further down the line.

The wholesale division is allegedly valued at around £1.5bn and a big chunk of such a sale could thus go toward tackling their debts. But analysts have warned that the value of their wholesale division is largely linked to their retail base, which has been shedding hundreds of thousands of customers since 2019.

UPDATE 10:16am

We’ve added a comment from TalkTalk above.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
44 Responses
  1. Avatar photo John Nolan says:

    To quote Dave Clark (back in 1994) at a future Internet conference who famously said “maybe we should all become economists.” Clark was with MIT at the time.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Sort out your customer services it’s one of the worst with rude inarticulate staff…
      Build from the bottom up as the broadband is not that bad

    2. Avatar photo The facts says:

      Dave Clark of the Dave Clarke Five – I’m in pieces, bits and pieces.

    3. Avatar photo Andrew Napier says:

      LOL I was with them for 24 years, moved about an hour ago to 1gb for 25 a month, they wanted to renew my contract at 27.99 for 150 down 20 up. I told the guy who was very polite that I would have stayed if they could compete, but they don’t have fibre and their fibre when installed for 1gb is around 70 a month.
      Really sad to leave but hey savings of that amount is just too much to pass up.

      One thing I have never experienced in my decades of being with them is them saying there cancellation team is busy and having to hold for 10 minutes, I always got my best deals from the cancellation team, not a long wait but shows they are losing a lot more customers this year than ever before, it will be interesting to see how they survive if so many people are fleeing there seriously high prices, they are in no way a budget broadband provider any more.
      But we will see how they react to losing so many subscribers and what the cost of their 1gb will be when my present contract expires in 18 months, as they told me they will have fibre in my area in 3 months time at most.
      Maybe a new owner will give realistic budget pricing for a new contract then. But knowing American businesses, they will buy the company and sell all assets and whatever customers to another company to make a quick buck.

  2. Avatar photo David says:

    Despite them being called TalkTalk, I found that’s the last thing their customer services wanted to do to me the last time I rang! Got hung up on multiple times before firing off an E-Mail to their CEO and getting a £100 credit applied to the account which allowed me to leave my contract early and go elsewhere!

    1. Avatar photo Ex talktalk says:

      I started my career at Talktalk customer service in their Preston office in 2009. In 2012 they made their UK based tech support redundant, same with their customer service. They then outsourced their loyalty team (which I was part of) to an outsourcer who was then gobbled up by HGS, who in turn then really caused a nosedive in staff welfare, before eventually shutting down their UK operation. So yes, the ones who used to care were shafted.

  3. Avatar photo Anthony says:

    They fell because their customer service is so utterly bad. I was a TalkTalk customer for 2 years on FTTP. I was over the moon with their service quality. Until I needed help from their customer service. This was so utterly atrocious that it caused me to leave and go to a different provider.

    1. Avatar photo AndyK says:

      And I suppose that sums up the entire problem with the UK telephony market – far too many people are simply not willing to pay what it costs to provide a great quality internet connection as well as great quality customer support.
      TalkTalk exist in the lowest of the lows of the market, alongside other companies like Vodafone with equally terrible customer service reports regularly coming in. The simple fact is that if you want to have a well qualified, patient person paid to have enough time to properly take on board the issue and resolve it, you have to pay for it!
      It’s a shame that so much of the population nowadays doesn’t understand that good value does not mean lowest possible price.

    2. Avatar photo Paul says:

      Same experience here. The service itself was fine, but trying to get support especially when the install went tits up was near impossible. Even when I had help from someone who worked in TTB, as soon as Youfibre became available I jumped ship.

    3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @AndyK

      Sums up the problem with the UK economy as a whole. Prices being driven to wafer thin margins, which invariably means they loo to keep staff costs to a minimum, which then leads to less spending power by employees who then look to cut their outgoings to a minimum which drives prices even lower. The cycle goes on and on and on.

    4. Avatar photo Ex Talktalk staff. On to bigger and better. says:

      They got rid of their UK customer service and tech support around 11 years ago. First by outsourcing us, then, by ending contracts with the UK based outsourcers with a preference to let Durban and Kolkata pick up where we left off.

      I guess that’s the price we all pay when people want cheap service.

    5. Avatar photo Dave Webster says:

      Plusnet business proves you wrong and tells the honest truth.
      They by all measures we’re excellent for the price.
      Bt got concerned they were taking a lot of business from them.
      Bought them and are now winding down the business part and swapping them over to BT at much higher monthly costs.

      Greed is the issue here.

  4. Avatar photo Paul says:

    Also, to add when I did leave. They sent me two collections for the router and never charged me a n early cancellation fee. Their loss.

  5. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

    Their level of debt is insane when you consider they don’t really have any infrastructure assets of value which equate to anywhere near £1billion.
    They sold off their fibre business to city fibre a few years back for £200 million.
    If they do fail what assets are going to be able to be sold off?
    Whereas if someone does buy them, what are they buying exactly? The customers? I wouldn’t think that talktalk customers are the highest value customers in there of margins and surely you wouldn’t pay £1billion for them when you could grow them orgnacically once talk talk fails.

    1. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      TalkTalk’s pension fund was in deficit as of 31 December 2022 to the tune of £1.5 billion which, with its existing debt pile and limited physical assets, makes it worth little. Unless the sale price is going to be peanuts there won’t be a buyer, and what the rival vultures will do is just wait for the company to collapse and cherry pick the 3.94 million broadband customers.

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Pretty rotten cherries at £24.45 ARPU.

      It would be a brave company thinking they could make money from this customer base, given that the rapacious private equity sector has tried and failed.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Indeed, Andrew. Given the proportion of costs that are fixed it’s not pleasant. No access network of their own so a hard floor of costs per customer paying mostly Openreach with a little CityFibre and a very little others.

      I struggle to see how any ISP specifically targeting the lowest end customers may make any money. Such a low margin business.

  6. Avatar photo Mark Jones says:

    I’m so glad I took redundancy in 2012 and sold my shares at their peak values.

    1. Avatar photo Ex Talktalk says:

      Hello, ex Tulketh Mill staff? What happened there to tech support and customer service was awful. Offering tech support relocation to India instead of redundancy, calling it a severence package instead to try and save face..

      I hung on till 2015 when their outsourcer gave us 30 days notice of the impending loss of protected rights such as salary, pension, bonus, shift patterns. Even the free on site gym was for the chop!

    2. Avatar photo Badem says:

      AHH Tulketh Mill,
      Remember spending times with the Model Office on the FTTP and getting it a shining pearl in CS for TalkTalk, then then offloaded to HGS, then to India and down the pan since then. Awful service and was sad to see the decline when I was there at Soapworks, watch people leave then come back 2 years later at a manager role and higher salary than if they had been promoted internally, Nepo was rife and probably still is.

    3. Avatar photo Ex talktalk HGS says:

      @BADEM I was one of the few outsourced to HGS. Terrible place to work. Their management would actually tell the new starters that person a, b, and c, are ex Talktalk and on much higher salaries to create a division.

      Then there was the time that when minimum wage increased, HGS, made us all sign new contracts to say our hourly rate has increased to x, but they would no longer pay for our breaks. As a result, people’s take home never actually increased.

  7. Avatar photo Wonderer says:

    I just wonder how much they lost supplying eero routers that never get returned . Ebay is absolutely loaded with them. Or Does Amazon supply them to TalkTalk for free in some type of deal ? Still seems like a big money hole.

    1. Avatar photo Anthony says:

      When I left they sent me a letter saying they will fine me £50 if I didn’t return it. I sent it back. I am not sure how these people are all getting around these fines.

    2. Avatar photo Wonderer says:

      Me either but week after week there on there . Must be thousands that have been sold.

    3. Avatar photo Badem says:

      I took FTTP offer, cancelled within 14 days of order being placed but before FTTP was installed, had already received the Eero, still got it sat here. Interesting thing is when you set it up and link it you get a TT branded Eero landing page.

    4. Avatar photo djb says:

      For a period of time, the terms for FTTP stated that you “owned” the equipment. The terms have since been updated to say that it risks deactivation if used on another service (I believe).

  8. Avatar photo Tech3475 says:

    Granted this was a few years back, but I had no real issues with their CS.

    I’d rather deal with them than say Virgin Media.

    That said, I decided to look at their 900 FTTP package and it would cost me £50pm on a 24 month contract AND they do annual prices, so I basically have no reason to use them over Cuckoo, Aquiss, etc.

  9. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    Is their customer service “In-House” or is it “Facility Managed” ?

    The sequelae to the “Race-to-the-bottom (Price)” philosophy (Might mean something entirely different if you have COVID).

    Most of the “Problems” in this country since the ned of WW2 have been due to under-investment . . that’s why UK industry isn’t on the scale it used to be, why there is a housing shortage, why school and hospital building programmes are so behind the curve etc etc.

    As telecomms is so vital an asset to the development of all countries at the moment, shouldn’t HMG be trying to support it to avoid the disruption of a collapse, particularly as this firm deals with part of the bottom-end of the market.

    Remembering that in the modern economy “Logistics is everything” . . in the widest sense of logistics. Every logistics disruption is a deferral/loss of growth.

    A bit of government facilitated debt re-structuring should be offered and the management board should be compelled under the terms of the offer, to take a back seat whilst government appointees/civil servants get things put straight, with the kiddies i.e. the board only being allowed to resume control of the “Jelly and cream” party, in a modified form, at a later date.

    Plenty of precedents for that . . . Rolls-Royce (1971) . . . Banking Sector (2008) etc . . etc . .

    1. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      “A bit of government facilitated debt re-structuring should be offered and the management board should be compelled under the terms of the offer, to take a back seat whilst government appointees/civil servants get things put straight, with the kiddies i.e. the board only being allowed to resume control of the “Jelly and cream” party, in a modified form, at a later date.”

      Well, speaking as a civil servant, let me suggest “no”. There’s sufficient public sector messes (eg Emergency Mobile Radio), we don’t need Talktalk who are an entirely private sector mess. Either it lives in the private sector, or it goes bust there. Unlike RR or the banking sector, TalkTalk have no real assets, and are of no strategic importance despite having a few million customers. There’s a somewhat untested supplier of last resort scheme managed by Ofcom (hahahahahah!) but the Ofgem process has been used for several million energy customers.

      The fundamental issue here is that TT didn’t charge their customers enough, that’s a simple failing that doesn’t require government intervention. Indeed, TT should put their prices up by about 15% at each contract renewal (over and above the CPI+3.9%), that would see a lot of moaning, and a lot of customers leave, but they’d at least stand a chance of being viable. Instead their board have chosen to sell below their average cost to preserve market share, they can now reap what they’ve sown.

    2. Avatar photo Ex talktalk says:

      Outsourced. I started there in 2009 as a Talktalk customer service advisor, back when they were still carphone warehouse. They split to become a standalone company and shortly after, got rid of UK based customer service, tech support, and eventually outsourced loyalty, who in turn, shafted us former talktalk staff. Shortly after I left in 2015, they shut down what was left in the UK.

  10. Avatar photo JeffM says:

    Like many others here I suffered from not only terrible customer service but also terrible FTTC service. Lost half my speed, refused to fix it so bailed out in the first 14 days back to BT. Rude staff, crap service. No wonder it’s about to fail.

  11. Avatar photo MadDog says:

    It’s a shame for the staff, but would anyone actually miss TalkTalk? Horrible company to deal with, product is bargain bucket garbage and the support is absolutely dire. They don’t seem to have any assets, just customers who are cheap/tight and don’t want to pay for a decent service from a proper provider.

    1. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      What flavour do you like your tap water?

      The product you get is the same regardless of what ISP you go with.

      How often does one need to actually call up their ISP about anything?

      This idea that customer service is somehow relevant for such a product is beyond ridiculous.

    2. Avatar photo MadDog says:

      You really are displaying your ignorance here unfortunately Fred, there is a world of difference in areas including back haul network capacity, equipment supplied and used by the ISP, levels of support etc- too numerous to list here. Do some research on this very site to learn more!

      I’ve been involved in rectifying problems for family members who have used Talk Talk and can assure you their service and customer support is vastly inferior to BT, YouFibre, Claranet, Vodafone, Virgin and Sky- all of who I have experienced.

      Customer service is very important if you have a problem, which most people will at some point. I guess you are 1 of the cheapskates who use Talk Talk eh Fred, obviously touched a nerve

    3. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      None of what you say changes the fact that the end product is the same; I type a web address into my browser and it loads up the relevant webpage, with discernable difference in speed.

      ISPs supply routers that rarely have any notable differences, all of which are functionally worse than any third party router that you buy for peanuts.

      Again, what flavour do you like your tap water?

      These companies operate in an area of mostly unnecessary competition, which ultimately is what drives down standards.

    4. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      *no discernable difference in speed

  12. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    Crazy what have happened to them, while I never thought much of Talk Talk, service, customer service and the way they tried to get customers, I always thought they were doing ok. Talk Talk used to be cheap and that is why a lot of people went with them.

    Never been with them myself, but have had plenty of run-ins with their customer service on behalf of other people.

  13. Avatar photo Fibre Scriber says:

    Earlier this year a relation asked if I would setup an FTTP contract including landline phone for them with TalkTalk, which i may add i advised against. Trying to be helpful i rang the number for TalkTalk anyway, and found the call centre i was speaking with was in the Republic of Ireland. The chap on the line tried to be helpful. I told him the contract i wanted, FTTP including landline, but was informed that new customers could not have Digital Voice, only existing customers, and they might, if lucky, have a chance to go on a trial for DV if they were in certain regions where the trials were taking place. I was told a different team dealt with this, and I asked to be put through to them anyway, but unfortunately he said he had tried to put other people through, but the line always went dead with him. Having let my friend know the score, i set him up with another ISP. Seemed to me TalkTalk were putting obstacles in the way of someone who just wanted to join their service. I should add the Exchange is in a Priority area, so the contract had to be FTTP and Digital Voice.

  14. Avatar photo will tell says:

    I doubt there is a compelling argument for the continued existence of TalkTalk. Presumably someone else would be happy to absorb its user base.

    1. Avatar photo kevin says:

      I dd read a while ago Sky was interested in buying TalkTalk’s B2B arm. If this was to happen it might help them debt wise as that part of the business would be off their hands.

    2. Avatar photo Industry insider says:

      Sky and Vodafone have previously been rumoured to be interested in buying Talktalk.

      Talktalk do, however, have a large wholesale network, which even some higher end providers rely on for backhaul operations alongside Virgin Media, and Vodafone.

  15. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Talk Talk tended to target the low cost end of the market. The alt nets though are currently undercutting them so a lot of their customer base is moving to them

    Those that are not so focussed on cost are not likely to choose Talk m Talk due to their poor customer service

    Can they turn Talk Talk around? I suspect not they would need a really good management team and a total new image and marketing and I do not think they have those skills

  16. Avatar photo wot no assets! says:

    No asset comments always comes up when people discuss TalkTalk.

    TalkTalk have a load of kit: their core network (sat in various data centres, some owned outright), kit out in the Openreach exchanges (3,000 of them), CDNs (Netflix, Amazon, iPlayer, others), big routers/ ethernet kit for MPLS and ENNI links etc, etc, etc.

    I have zero idea how the value compares to their debt.

    1. Avatar photo The facts says:

      The value of 3000 lots of local loop unbundling kit is near zero.

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