Consumer group Which? found that 53% of households have had difficulties with their broadband, with customers of Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Sky and BT the most likely to experience an issue.
As few as one in 10 households receive the super-fast broadband speeds promised in adverts, said Which?. One third of TalkTalk’s customers complained about “very slow” broadband speeds, as did 22% of BT internet users.
Connection drop-outs were a frequent problem for 17% of broadband users, with 8% of households reporting that they suffered from no connection at all for hours or days at a time.
Price hikes for landline rentals have spurred widespread customer dissatisfaction. BT introduced its third price rise in 18 months at the start of the year, forcing it to deny that it was squeezing customers after paying £1.2bn for Champions League football rights.
Virgin customers’ top complaint was about price increases, said Which?, with 38% of users angry over increased line rental costs.
Which? surveyed 1,709 telecoms customers between June and July. Alex Neill of Which? said:“Far too many people get a poor deal from their broadband provider, with problems ranging from very slow speeds to going days without any connection at all, which just isn’t good enough.
“The regulator must now deliver on its plans to improve the information that customers get about speeds when they sign up to a provider, and allow them to easily exit a contract if they’re not getting what they’ve been promised.”
Ofcom, which regulates broadband suppliers, said: “We completely agree that broadband providers must up their game.”
It recently ordered suppliers to give more realistic information about speeds, and later this year will introduce a new compensation deal for households that sufferdelayed repairs, late installations and missed engineer appointments.
The UK lags behind countries including the US, the Netherlands and Japan for 4G and broadband speeds, according to a report last week by the National Infrastructure Commision.
Andrew Adonis, chairman of the commission, said: “Today’s findings [from Which?] demonstrate the scale of the problems customers are having with the current level of broadband service, but also the challenge we face if we are to have the best possible connections in future.
“The UK risks falling behind our international competitors if we don’t invest in the latest ultrafast and fibre technology – broadband providers must also step up to the plate and improve the services they currently deliver to our homes and businesses,” added Lord Adonis.
A study published this month by the Social Market Foundation thinktank found that landline rental and broadband is among the least competitive of all consumer markets in the UK.
“The lack of competitive pressures in the landline-only space means there have been few incentives for companies to compete on price … while wholesale costs of providing a landline service fell by 26% in real terms in recent years, line rental charges faced by consumers increased by 25-49%.”
TalkTalk said it was disappointed by the Which? findings and that recent investment had led to fewer faults and quicker repair times. Virgin Media said it was one of the least-complained about broadband providers and the majority of customers got their advertised speed.
There was support for the broadband suppliers from comparison site cable.co.uk. Its telecoms expert Dan Howdle said: “It’s easy to complain about broadband in the UK, but on international comparisons we are not doing that badly. We are 31st in the world out of 200 countries on speeds and in the cheapest third when it comes to the cost of broadband.”