At the beginning of 2005 a standard broadband deal would have cost about £25 a month, but the same package now costs less than £15 a month. If you are prepared to bundle together your TV and/or telephone from the same supplier, you can get even cheaper deals.
With so many different options and price packages, broadband can be very confusing. “There are more than 100 broadband providers, so it can be hard to know what you really need and what you should pay. Cost is important but you do not want to end up with something that isn’t right.”
How can I get broadband?
Broadband internet access can be obtained through a traditional telephone line, cable or satellite connection and is at least ten times faster than dial-up, meaning that you spend less time waiting for web pages to load.
Unlike dial-up, broadband is “always on”, so there is no additional cost for time spent online.
The faster connection speeds mean that broadband users can download music files, video clips and films or compete in online gaming. With a 1Mb connection, it should take no longer than five seconds to download a typical single from itunes and less than 45 seconds for an album.
Downloading films takes longer because the file sizes are much bigger. A 90-minute film of average picture quality would take roughly 15 minutes to download using a 1Mb connection. If you use the internet only for e-mail, web browsing and the occasional download, you are unlikely to need more than a 512k connection. But if you regularly download music files, then a 1Mb connection would be more appropriate. Broadband users can also make telephone calls over the internet, but they would need to subscribe to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider and buy an internet- compatible handset.
There is so much competition that most providers now offer 1Mb connections as standard. You only really need the super-fast 8Mb connections if you are a heavy downloader of films or want to play games online.
Finding the right deal
Experts advise consumers to use an online comparison service to ensure that they find the right broadband deal. Most of these websites start by asking where you live because some internet service providers (ISPs) do not cover all areas.
You then have to identify roughly how much you use the internet so that the ISP can work out the most suitable connection speed. It then shows the best prices for your circumstances. The website uSwitch.com has a useful feature that allows its users to compare ISPs by their customer satisfaction ratings. PlusNet has the highest rating at 92 per cent while NTL and BT have the lowest at 81 per cent and 82 per cent respectively.
Bundling TV and phone
Adding your phone service and/or TV to the package can also help you to get the best deal. Consumers buying packaged deals should not only look at the headline cost but also consider whether each element is appropriate. Heavy internet users might find that bundled phone and broadband deals have a cap on monthly downloads. If each part of the deal is what you need, it can save you money, but if not, it may be better to buy each service separately.
Experts warns consumers to watch for hidden costs. Some broadband providers charge connection fees, while others cap the amount that you can download. If you go over the limit, you will have to pay extra. It is also worth considering the cost of the technical helpline, particularly if you are a beginner. Some companies charge as much as 50p a minute, which can quickly add up if something goes wrong.
Some of the cheaper deals have long contracts and high cancellation fees.If you buy cable or satellite broadband, the provider will install it for you. If you go for an ADSL connection, most ISPs will send you a modem to plug into your computer and phone line. They will also send you a software CD to install on your computer.