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Understanding your broadband contract

By Dan Howdle | Thursday, July 2nd 2020

When you sign up to a new broadband deal, you will have to sign a contract. It may seem like a simple thing, but there is a lot to take in tucked away in all that small print. So what should you be looking out for, and what are your own rights when you under contract? This guide will make it all clear.

This would all be a lot easier to understand if provider contracts all contained the same detail. But things vary from one provider to the next. Sometimes considerably. Rather than cover things one provider at a time, though, it's going to be more useful to get a broad overview of what you should look out for one aspect at a time. Without further ado then.

The basic terms of your broadband contract

A broadband contract is a two-way agreement. What that means is that it's not only what you agree to from a customer perspective, but also what your broadband provider promises to you in terms of the service you receive.

Often, broadband providers will steeply raise the price of your broadband connection at the end of the contract period. Take a few minutes to note when and by how much your provider is likely to do this. Being loyal can be costly.

In return, your provider promises you a minimum service level. This includes things like a minimum speed you should receive. The basic terms also outline the things your provider can change. Unless otherwise stated, your broadband provider is free to change what it likes, including the monthly cost. Don't sweat it too much though as any change in cost refreshes the 30-day cooling-off period, allowing you to switch away without penalty if you wish.

Cancelling, switching and contract length

Broadband contracts typically run between one month and 24 months. Sometimes there are contracts that are longer available and typically perks that go along with them in exchange for the additional commitment. The most common contract length is 12 months. One-month contracts are available and only tie you in for 30 days on a rolling basis, meaning you can leave any time with 30 days notice. Typically such contracts are more expensive than longer ones – you will be paying extra for the option to walk away any time.

If you change your mind and want to cancel you may do so anytime within the first 30 days. This is not typically 30 days since your new broadband connection is installed and working – more often it's 30 days since you signed up. This is called your cooling-off period. The length of this period can occasionally cause problems if for some reason your broadband is taking an unusually long time to install. Typically, installation takes around two weeks.

You can also cancel or switch back out of your broadband contract if your provider fails to meet the contract's basic terms (explained in the next section). For example, if you're getting a fraction of the speed your provider promised you and it has failed to fix the issue within a reasonable period of time.

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Installation, equipment and set-up costs

Upfront costs

Some broadband contracts demand up-front costs for installation, connection and/or the cost of posting you your new broadband router. Generally speaking deals with no upfront costs tend to offer little or no gifts, cashback and other sweeteners, though there are some exceptions. Whether or not a provider charges up-front costs or not usually boils down to the following factors:

  1. Whether it's fibre or ADSL: Do you want fibre or ADSL broadband? If installation charges apply to the deal you've chosen, they will tend to be much more expensive for superfast fibre broadband than they are ADSL broadband. This is especially the case if you have never had fibre before as a new line will need to be connected at the exchange
  2. Which provider you choose: Some providers charge smaller fees for set-up, while some charge no fees at all
  3. Whether your router needs to be posted: Many providers will charge you for the postage

All broadband comparison tools on Cable.co.uk will show you the sum total up-front costs on any particular deal.

Your router – is it yours?

One other detail made clear in your contract is who owns your router. Some providers will want it back if you switch away after your contract expires. Others are happy to let you keep it. Either way, this is worth finding out.

Providers will tend not to mind if you want to switch the supplied router to one of your own. However, if you do this your broadband contract will usually point out that you are waiving your right to have certain problems fixed should something go wrong. Our advice is don't do it without a very good reason.

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Contracted speed versus advertised speed

Providers advertise the average broadband speed received by their customers. It's a measurement, which is why the average speed often differs by a few megabits per second between different providers. As an average, though, it means that you may get speeds faster than those advertised, but you may also get speeds that are slower. Sometimes much slower.

The speed you can receive depend on a combination of two factors: Which broadband provider you choose and how far your home is from the nearest exchange cabinet. Your broadband contract will tell you the speed you are expected to receive. Take a few moments to check this and ensure you're happy with it.

Usage caps and traffic management

Usages caps

At the time of writing there are no capped packages (where you are limited to using a certain amount of data each month) available. They do crop up, though, from time to time. If you choose one, be sure of two things:

  1. The data allowance is enough: If you stream Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon, NOW TV, Disney+ or any other online TV or movie service, chances are you will hit your limit quite quickly. Likewise if you like to download a lot of games and apps. If you don't do any of these things you should be okay
  2. What happens when you hit your limit? Does the service shut down? Restrict to basic internet use (surfing)? Or will your broadband provider charge you for additional data usage? You can check your contract to find out

Traffic management

Most broadband providers no longer use traffic management measures. Traffic management is when a provider lowers the top speed for all customers during peaks usage times (evenings) to ensure everyone gets a an equal, if lowered a little, speed.

Most people will never notice if they're being traffic managed. But if you're someone who needs maximum performance at peak times of day you may want to consider choosing a deal where there is no traffic management at all. So check the small print either in your contract or on the provider's website to know whether your package provider employs traffic management or not. Most do not, but it is better to be certain.

Acceptable use policy (AUP)

The acceptable use policy is the part of your broadband contract that will run you through all the things you can't do with your broadband contract. If you do any of the things banned under the AUP you will risk having your contract withdrawn.

It's easy not to breach the AUP since all those things listed are illegal: Spreading computer viruses, malicious hacking, online harassment and so on. Most of us simply won't ever do those things, but it's still worth familiarising yourself with the dos and don'ts.

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