UK internet speeds – fixed and mobile – most disappointing in Europe

UK households are the most dissatisfied in Europe with download/upload speeds, according to an opinion poll published by the European Commission today.

Thirty sever per cent of UK respondents said that speeds and capacities did not match contract conditions they signed (a problem also identified in the Commission’s net neutrality Communication). This compares to an EU average of 23 per cent. The UK also exhibited one of the highest dissatisfaction levels in the previous survey carried out 2009.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, said: “Consumers are telling us loud and clear that they are worried they are not getting the internet speeds and quality of service they have been promised. National authorities must take appropriate measures to ensure that operators respect new EU rules requiring to them to be transparent on connection speeds and service quality. If this should not be sufficient, I would not hesitate to take further action in the form of more prescriptive guidance, or even legislation if it is needed.”

From 25 May 2011 new EU legislation requires service providers to give customers comprehensive and accurate information in advance – before they sign a contract – on minimum service quality levels including actual connection speeds and possible limits on internet speeds. The Commission is currently investigating broadband speeds and other transparency and quality of service issues.

The survey also found that 54 per cent of those surveyed in the UK limit their mobile phone calls because of cost, compared to an EU average of 65 per cent.

The E-Communications Household Survey was carried out between 9 February and 8 March 2011 using a sample of 27,000 households that are representative of the EU population.

Also in the report: Europeans prefer all in one ‘packages’ for internet, phone and TV with four out of ten (42 per cent) EU/UK households buying “bundled” internet, phone and TV services from a single provider.

The survey also found that people are concerned about data privacy – 91 per cent of UK respondents (EU: 88 per cent) said they would like to be informed if their personal data collected by the telecom provider was lost, stolen or altered in any way.
Under new EU rules applicable from 25 May 2011, telecoms operators and internet service providers must take strong security measures to protect the names, email addresses and bank account information of their customers, along with data about every phone call and internet session they engage in. The new rules also require operators, if security is breached and/or personal data is lost or stolen, to inform the data protection authorities and their customers without undue delay.

The survey also found that 99% of UK households (EU: 98 per cent) have access to a telephone and an increasing proportion of households (UK: 93 per cent / EU: 89 per cent) have access to a mobile phone. Seventy six per cent (EU: 62 per cent) have both fixed and mobile phones, while only 6 per cent (EU: 9 per cent) rely on a fixed line alone. Ninety seven per cent of UK households have television, (EU: 98 per cent).

Forty two per cent of EU/UK households subscribe to a “bundled” service, while 61% of all internet access and half of fixed telephony services are purchased as part of a bundle.

Thirty eight of UK households (EU: 41 per cent) said the main advantage of these packages was the convenience of having a single service provider and a single invoice. Thirty four per cent (EU: 33 per cent) believed that a bundle is cheaper than paying for each service separately.

However, 14 per cent (EU: 16 per cent) consider that bundles offer some services they do not need and another 7 per cent (EU:10 per cent) raise concerns about the lack of transparency and clarity in relation to the cost and conditions of each service.

Six out of ten households (EU: 58 per cent, UK 54 per cent) )say they have never considered switching to another service provider.

Sixty seven per cent of UK households (EU: 77 per cent) are ‘inertial’, that is they would never switch their bundle. Sixteen per cent of households (compared with 12 per cent in the EU) are “active switchers” and 12 per cent would like to switch but are hindered for one reason or another.

Among the obstacles to switching are the risk of a temporary loss of service, the risk of having to pay for more than one provider during the switching process and the lack of clarity about the steps required for switching.

In addition to the problems found with internet connection speeds and connection breakdowns, one in four respondents reports difficulties in connecting to the mobile network and a similar proportion reports that mobile communications have been cut off whilst on a call.

Sixty five per cent of EU respondents are now limiting their mobile calls due to concerns about the costs (up 4% since the last survey of November-December 2009). This compares to 54 per cent of UK respondents, an increase of 3 per cent.
Half of those with internet access on their smartphone limit their use due to worries about cost, (UK: 46 per cent).

Calling over the Internet for free or at a cheap rate, from a computer or a WiFi-connected device, is growing, with 28 per cent of EU households with internet access (UK: 29 per cent) making this type of voice call, a 6% increase since the last survey.

A quarter (27 per cent) of EU households only have access to the public telephone network from a mobile phone – a proportion which has increased in 17 Member States since the last survey and which reaches levels higher than 50% of households in five countries (the Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia). However, UK figures of 17 per cent show a decrease 3 per cent.

The Commission has asked the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) to undertake a rigorous fact-finding exercise on barriers to changing operators, blocking or “throttling” internet traffic (for example voice over Internet services), transparency and quality of service. The Commission will publish evidence from BEREC’s investigation by the end of 2011, including any instances of blocking or throttling certain types of traffic. If BEREC’s findings and other feedback indicate outstanding problems, the Commission will assess the need for more stringent measures.

The Commission is also conducting a study to compare advertised and actual internet speeds. Data will be available at the end of 2011.

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