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The impact of Covid-19 on household broadband packages

Key findings

  • There was an increase in the proportion of households with fixed broadband upgrading to faster broadband during the pandemic. 54% of households now have superfast broadband and 16% have ultrafast.
  • However, there was no increase in the rate of switching to alternative providers.

  • Concern about a loss of service may be holding back people from trying new providers, and this fear may have been worsened by greater reliance on home broadband during the pandemic.

Introduction

Covid-19 has fundamentally impacted how people work and spend their leisure time. Our restricted ability to go out and a desire to keep safe have meant that many households have increased their broadband use for all kinds of activities such as working from home, shopping, banking and managing utilities, and entertaining. Which? research found that 68% of consumers have increased their broadband use since the first lockdown in March 2020 (Which?, March 2021). 

However, while this increased broadband use is well known, it is not yet clear whether people are paying more attention to the broadband they buy. In this article we explore the evidence on whether households have become more likely to upgrade their broadband package and to switch their provider.

Increased upgrading compared to previous years

Increased usage does seem to have led to higher demand for faster broadband. There was a larger increase in households with faster broadband packages in 2020 than in previous years as they reported moving away from standard broadband. 

For the first time, more than half of households with fixed broadband (54%) have a superfast broadband package and the percentage of pthese households with ultrafast broadband (with download speeds in excess of 100MBps) almost doubled, from 9% to 16% between 2019 and 2020 (Ofcom). 

This increase may not all be due to the pandemic as 2020 also saw the introduction of End of Contract Notifications. These notifications are intended to stop people from unwittingly falling out of contract and paying more for their broadband, and by setting out the options available to a customer they may be encouraging more people to upgrade.

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But this hasn’t led to more switching between providers

While houeholds have been more likely to upgrade their broadband package in the past year, this has not led to increased rates of switching between providers. Ofcom (2020) found that 13% of broadband users had changed their provider in the last 12 months, but this is consistent with previous years. 

Households are considering other providers but tend to choose to stay with their current provider. Throughout the pandemic, a majority of households have been ‘shopping around’ for a broadband package - with 77% of consumers with a broadband package looking at both their own and other providers' offers (Ofcom, 2020). There has been a small increase in those with a broadband package only considering their current provider during the pandemic, but this is still a minority (6% in 2019 to 11% in 2020).

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A low rate of switching may not be a concern if providers are competing to hang on to their customers, but it may reflect barriers to switching. Previous Which? research found that many consumers find it difficult to judge how well a new provider will function until they have a new service installed and this can deter people from switching. 

Greater dependence on broadband during the pandemic may have made this barrier worse. Our research found that there was a reluctance to switch even among people already experiencing problems with their broadband. Of those who had experienced problems but not upgraded, 51% feared a loss of service and 39% were concerned they could end up with a worse connection (Which?, March 2021). 

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please email Paige Johns at consumerinsight@which.co.uk

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