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Mobile and broadband providers ‘encourage’ consumers to depend on their networks

Friday, August 7th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

People have become “massively dependant” on broadband and mobile networks, with huge expectations driven by providers’ promises, a consumer telecoms expert has said.

Roger Darlington, chairman of the Consumer Forum for Communications (CFC), said people expect to be able to connect to the internet wherever and whenever, meaning it is a “fundamental” problem when they can’t.

The CFC is an informal forum hosted by Ofcom that allows consumer representatives to share information and views, and pass them on to Ofcom and those who shape the policies that affect consumers.

Mr Darlington, who is its independent chairman, said consumers' expectations of their broadband and mobile connections have “risen enormously for all sorts of reasons”.

“But one of them is that we’ve become so dependant on these products, on these networks, on these technologies,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“We’ve got to the point now where wherever we are we expect to be able to connect to the internet.

“The providers might say, ‘well that’s very expensive and it’s very complex technically’, but that’s the expectation now.”

From public wi-fi connections to wi-fi on some planes, the availability of internet connections wherever people go means they become dependant, he said.

“A lot of us do a lot of our work over these connected networks, we expect them to work all the time.

“So if you lose your connectivity for a few days because you tried to switch and it hasn’t worked or even a few hours because your provider has had a technical fault, it’s not an inconvenience like the post arriving an hour or two later.

'Empowering consumers'

“It’s fundamental, it means you can’t do your business or you can’t attend the meeting, or you can’t express a view, or you can’t take up an offer on an e-commerce site.

“It now affects everything we do, whether your children can do their homework, whether you can get the best deals, whether you can access Netflix, whether you can book your holidays.”

That dependence is only likely to grow, Mr Darlington said, and is driven by providers’ promises to consumers.

“The providers themselves are actually driving these expectations.

“If you look at the advertisements or the promotional material, you hear words like ‘biggest, fastest, no caps, always on, superfast, ultrafast’.

“We are being encouraged to depend on these networks and we are depending on them.”

It is mainly in the “private sphere” at the moment, he said, but will increasingly apply to public services as the government pushes its ‘digital by default’ agenda.

Mr Darlington said a growing dependance on online services does not rely solely on getting people connected, but giving them the skills as well.

He said: “If you take an issue like broadband and connectivity, probably the biggest single issue in communications, and there’s lots of government programmes to build networks whether it’s fixed or mobile.

“There’s virtually nothing about the demand side. So there are still millions of people in this country who are simply not on the internet and we don’t have a significant major investment programme to put that right.

“So it’s about empowering consumers in the sense of giving them not just the connectivity but the skills and confidence to use those services both private and public is an area which we’ve neglected very substantially.”

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