How broadband and mobile firms are serving customers during the coronavirus pandemic

01 April 2020

Keeping communications going across the UK has never been more important right now. Home phone, broadband and mobile services are playing a vital role as we all adapt the way we live and work in the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19).

Broadband and phone companies are focused on keeping their networks running as demands increase, and prioritising access to safety-of-life communications like 999 or 111.

We welcome the efforts of the UK’s main broadband and mobile companies, who have committed to helping customers during the pandemic. As announced by the Government, BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and KCOM have introduced a range of measures:

  • Providers will work with customers who are finding it difficult to pay their bill as a result of the pandemic, and will make sure customers are treated fairly.
  • They have committed to remove all data caps on fixed broadband services.
  • They have agreed to offer some new mobile and home phone packages to help people stay connected. Some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from home phones or mobiles.
  • The providers will also make sure vulnerable customers or those who are self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication where possible, if the providers cannot fix priority repairs with their broadband or home phone services.

In addition, some providers are helping out with the national response to the pandemic. For example, Openreach engineering staff are building connections at the Nightingale Hospitals, which are being set up across the UK.

Providers are also facing significant staff shortages – between 20% and 40% in some cases – as a result of illness, lockdowns and self-isolation. This means fewer people in call centres to help customers, and fewer engineers to carry our repairs and new connections.

So broadband and mobile firms are focusing their efforts on keeping their customers connected, particularly those that are vulnerable and depend on their services the most.

We think this is absolutely the right approach. And we recognise this might affect the companies’ ability to comply with some of our rules during this time. We have written to the providers explaining that we will take  account of the unique circumstances when enforcing our rules.

For example, we appreciate activities like end of contract notifications, which providers are required to send when customers are approaching the end of their minimum contract term, might be driving additional traffic to call centres at a time when organisations need to prioritise calls from vulnerable people and those that are having difficulties staying connected. So, while we are encouraging providers to send these notifications as normal, we will take a pragmatic approach to compliance with rules like this, recognising the significant challenges providers face at this time and the steps they need to take to respond to the impact of the coronavirus.

Below we outline how our codes of practice on broadband speeds and automatic compensation are affected.

Broadband speeds code of practice

Broadband connections are continuing to work well with increased demand. In the current challenging circumstances, broadband providers who have signed up to the broadband speeds code of practice might be unable to fix problems within the required 30-day window for customers who are getting less than their minimum guaranteed speed. Some speed problems will take longer to solve, for example, because of a shortage of staff or engineers may not be able to visit people’s homes. We are in close contact with providers to understand how they are meeting these requirements.

If you’re experiencing problems with your broadband speeds, see our practical tips and advice on our Stay Connected hub, or check your provider’s website for more information.

Automatic compensation

The automatic compensation scheme remains an important protection for customers. However, we understand that providers may not be able to carry out repairs, install new services and carry out home visits as they normally would.

Therefore, for the period that these unique circumstances apply, providers will not need to pay automatic compensation where they are unable to meet the requirements for repairs, installations and home visits in the scheme. This is in line with an exception in the scheme that applies to ‘civil emergencies’.

We expect operators to continue to provide the best possible service and do what is right by their customers, particularly those who are vulnerable. They need to communicate any decision not to pay compensation clearly to customers and must also stop charging customers who are without service.

We do not take these decisions lightly. And while we acknowledge the difficult circumstances that telecoms companies are in, that does not mean customers should be exploited. If we see evidence that is happening, we will step in and take action. But right now, the focus of providers must be on keeping people connected, especially those who need most support. These decisions will help companies make sure that happens.