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Understanding your broadband contract

By Dan Howdle | Monday, August 16th 2021

When you sign up for a new broadband deal, you will also have to agree to a contract – whether this is for a fixed period like 12-months, or on a month-to-month rolling basis.

Broadband contracts may seem simple on the surface, but terms and conditions can vary widely between lenders. It’s important to read the small print to fully understand your rights and obligations.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about broadband contracts - from the basics to the finer points.

Basic contract terms – the small print

A broadband contract is a two-way agreement, covering both your obligations as a customer, and what your provider promises in terms of the service you’ll receive. It’s likely to cover a fixed period of time, like 12 or 18 months, though monthly contracts are also available from some providers.

Your provider will set out a minimum level of expectation, including things like the slowest speed you can expect to receive. They should also cover basic terms like what can be altered and what should remain constant for the duration of the contract.

Unless explicitly stated, your broadband provider can change any part of your broadband provision at any time, including the monthly cost. If this happens, however, the 30-day cooling off period you’re entitled to will be refreshed, allowing you to switch away to a new provider without incurring a penalty.

When a fixed term contract ends, a provider is likely to steeply raise or ‘hike’ the monthly price of a broadband service, unless the consumer switches to a new deal. That’s why when you know your contract is nearing completion, it’s worth shopping around and looking at other providers to secure a better deal. Sadly, loyalty rarely pays off when it comes to broadband provision.

Thanks to Ofcom regulations, providers must inform you when your contract is due to finish so you can decide what you want to do before it happens. If you’d like to learn more about what happens when your contract ends, read our guide.

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Broadband contract length

Broadband contracts typically run between 12-months and 24-months. Generally, the longer you’re prepared to commit to staying with a provider, the cheaper your monthly rate for broadband provision will be.

Some providers also offer short-term or rolling broadband contracts, which operate on a month-by-month basis and can be cancelled at short notice. These are great for people who know they’ll be moving house or relocating for work in the near future. Typically such contracts are more expensive than longer ones, as you are paying extra for the option to cancel at any time without being penalised.

Cancelling or switching your broadband, and moving house

If you change your mind and want to cancel within the first 14 days of your broadband contract, you’re within your ‘cooling off period’ and won’t incur any penalties for doing so. Our guide about your consumer rights and your broadband contract contains more information.

You can also cancel your broadband contract without incurring charges if your provider fails to meet the contract’s basic terms, for example if you’re only receiving a fraction of the speed you’ve been promised and your provider fails to fix the issue within a reasonable period of time.

If there are no issues with your broadband provision, and you want to switch broadband providers, you will usually have to pay an early-exit fee, or even pay off the remaining monthly payments to free yourself from the agreement. Make sure you understand what the charges will be in this situation before signing your contract, and consider a rolling broadband contract if you know you’ll be moving house in the near future. Exiting a contract early can be expensive.

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Broadband installation and set-up

Some broadband providers charge upfront costs for installing your broadband, which might include the cost of your new router, or of posting it out to you.

Generally, deals that don’t have any upfront costs are less likely to offer incentives like free gifts, cashback, and money off monthly charges, though there are some exceptions.

Whether or not a broadband deal includes upfront costs depends on a couple of factors:

  1. Which broadband provider you choose – some typically charge bigger upfront fees than others, and some charge none at all as standard.
  2. Whether your new router needs to be posted, as most providers charge for this.

All broadband comparison tools on Cable.co.uk will show you the total amount of upfront costs on any particular deal, so that you can factor these into choosing a package that’s right for you. For more details about broadband installation, including timings, read our guide.

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Will I own my broadband router?

All broadband contracts should make clear who owns the router that’s provided – the customer or the company that supplies your internet. Some providers expect you to return your router when a contract comes to an end. Others are happy to let you keep hold of it.

It’s also worth noting that while most providers don’t mind if you switch the supplied router to one of your own choosing, doing so might waive your right to have certain broadband issues fixed free of charge. Our advice is to keep things simple and use the router provided with your deal.

Your expected broadband speed

Broadband providers advertise the average broadband speed received by their customers, so you may actually receive speeds that are faster or slower than this depending on a number of factors like what the infrastructure is like in your area, and where your router is located in your house.

The speed you can receive depends on a combination of two factors: which broadband provider you use and how far your home is from the nearest exchange cabinet.

Your broadband contract will tell you the speed you are expected to receive at your address. It’s up to you to check this is what’s actually being provided, and take action if speeds are regularly falling short of those promised. Use our broadband speed test to see how your current speeds stack up.

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Usage caps and traffic management

Usage caps

Broadband packages that limit the amount of data you can use each month are extremely rare. Most modern households need unlimited access to broadband, so this type of deal has become the norm.

If you do opt for a broadband deal with a usage cap, you should consider two things:

  1. That the data allowance is enough for your needs: if you stream Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon, NOW TV, Disney+ or any other online TV or movie service, you’re likely to hit your limit quite quickly. Likewise if you like to download a lot of games and apps.
  2. What happens when you hit your limit? Does the service shut down or restrict you to basic internet 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 peak usage times (evenings) to ensure everyone gets an equal, if slightly lowered speed.

Most broadband providers no longer use traffic management measures, and if they do, it’s unlikely you’ll even notice it’s happening.

If you’re someone who needs maximum performance at peak times of day, however, you may want to consider choosing a deal where there is no traffic management at all. 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.

Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)

The acceptable use policy (AUP), or fair usage 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’ll risk having your contract withdrawn.

It’s easy not to breach the AUP since the things listed, like spreading computer viruses, hacking, online harassment and so on, are illegal, but it’s still worth familiarising yourself with the do’s and don’ts.

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Contacting your broadband provider

If you find you need to speak with your broadband provider because your broadband is down, or you have any questions about your contract, you need to speak with your provider directly. Unfortunately, Cable.co.uk does not have access to any customer records and won’t be able to help you with your query.

Here are some contact numbers for the UK’s biggest broadband providers:

  • BT: 0800 800 150
  • Virgin Media: 0870 444 1820
  • Sky: 03442 411 653
  • TalkTalk: 0870 444 1820
  • Plusnet: 0800 432 0200
  • Post Office: 0345 600 3210
  • EE broadband: 0800 079 8586
  • Vodafone broadband: 08080 034 511
  • SSE: 0800 975 8292
  • John Lewis broadband: 0800 022 3300
  • Origin broadband: 01302 235060
  • Hyperoptic: 0333 332 1111
  • XLN: 0344 880 7777
  • Zen: 01706 902100
  • Direct Save Telecom: 0800 280 2228
  • Gigaclear: 01865 591 131

Read our guide for more advice on how to complain to your broadband provider.

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