how to get cheap broadband

How to get cheap broadband

Do you need fibre? How to switch & much more

Millions blindly overpay for broadband and line rent as costs rocket when promo deals end. So if you're out of contract, check now if you can save £100s/year by switching to our top picks below, or try our Broadband Unbundled tool to compare the best broadband, line and TV deals available in your area.

Coronavirus & switching broadband

For most, switching right now is fine as no one needs access to your home – it's sorted remotely. Yet for those switching from cable (eg, Virgin), you'll likely have to wait a little while. This is because most other firms use the BT Openreach network and its engineers are only just starting a phased return of installations after they were put on hold due to social distancing.

See our coronavirus need-to-know below and our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide for the latest information.

To benchmark, those out-of-contract typically pay BT £52/mth and Virgin £44/mth for fibre.

Nine broadband need-to-knows

These are the golden rules to give you chapter and verse, but if you just want a quick comparison, try our Broadband Unbundled tool.

  • For most, switching during the current crisis shouldn't be a problem as your switch can often be done remotely, with no one needing access to your home.

    However, for the small number of people switching from a cable provider (eg, Virgin Media) to a provider using the Openreach network (which is most other providers, including BT, Plusnet, Shell, Sky and Vodafone), you'll likely have to wait a little while for a new line. This is because Openreach engineers are only just starting a phased return of installations after they were put on hold due to social distancing.

    If you're switching to Virgin, 40% of people will need an engineer to come into their home. Its engineers have been working throughout the lockdown period, but are following social distancing safety guidelines.

    We've been working to answer all of your coronavirus-related broadband questions, including the support you can get if you're struggling to pay your bill due to the current situation – see below.

    For what happens when you switch, see how switching works.

    Quick questions

      • Switching to Virgin? A minority will need an engineer to come round. 60% of eligible Virgin customers won't need an engineer sent round – if you're in that group, it'll tell you BEFORE you sign up. If you're in the 40% that do, an engineer may need to come into your home or just go to a nearby exchange, but you won't be told which in advance. While they'll follow social distancing rules, you may decide against it at that point.

      • No engineers required for other switches, unless you need a new BT line (which you may well do if switching from Virgin). If you're currently a Virgin customer, as you're on cable you'd need a BT Openreach line unless you've the right wires from an old connection, and BT Openreach has only just begun a phased return of installations. In which case, an engineer will need to come round and that could take a long time.

    • If you're switching from BT, EE, John Lewis, Now Broadband, Plusnet, the Post Office, Shell Energy, Sky, SSE, TalkTalk or Vodafone to another provider in this list, you won't usually require an engineer to visit your home as you can be upgraded to fibre via the cabinet in your street.

      This means if you're working from home and need a speed boost, it'll still be possible.

      The exceptions are for those services provided by Virgin (which uses its own cable network) or Zen, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear (where available), which provide 'fibre to the premises'. These all require an engineer to visit your home.

    • Your new broadband provider will do its best to resolve any problems you may experience with a new connection. It can also carry out checks remotely to identify any issues affecting your broadband connection.

      Openreach, which looks after the majority of the broadband network (except cable), is now visiting homes again. It's said that while in most cases work needed can be done outside of your home, "there may be some circumstances where an engineer needs to enter your home" and if they do, the firm will call you beforehand to talk about how to make the visit as "short and safe as possible".

      In the unlikely event a repair can't be made straight away, providers are working on providing customers with additional ways of staying connected. These include sending out 4G dongle devices, extra mobile data (if you have a phone contract or Sim with your provider) and BT and Vodafone told us they could even send out basic mobile phones to customers.

    • If you're switching away from Virgin and to a firm using the Openreach network (BT, Sky, Vodafone etc), you may need an Openreach engineer to come into your home. If this is the case, it'll call you beforehand to talk about how to make the visit as "short and safe as possible". However, in a small number of cases your switch could be done remotely (ie, if you have had an Openreach line previously and it's still working) – so check with the provider. If you're out of contract and can't switch, make sure you haggle for a better deal.

    • A number of providers including BT, Sky and Vodafone have told us they'll help those who are struggling to pay their bills. They haven't given us specifics yet about what help they'll provide, but they've asked anyone affected to contact them as soon as possible to discuss their options.

      This follows regulator Ofcom telling firms they must do all they can to keep people's broadband running.

      Ofcom told us: "We expect providers to keep customers connected even where they are struggling to pay. We'll be asking them to suspend all disconnections, except those requested by the customer. We are in close contact with companies about what further support they can offer to customers in financial difficulties. If you are struggling, we advise you to speak to your provider in the first instance to discuss options."

    • BT told us that since Tuesday 17 March, it has seen weekday daytime traffic increase 35-60% compared with similar days on the network, peaking at 7.5 terabits per second (Tb/s).

      This is still only around half its average evening peak, and nowhere near its all-time 17.5 Tb/s peak that was driven by video game updates and Amazon Prime streaming Premier League football matches.

      Openreach, which looks after the majority of the network, has said it's confident it can handle the extra demand, telling us: "We now see around 74% more traffic during the day (9am-5pm) than we did four weeks ago over our fibre network. The peak time during the day is between 2pm and 5pm, while the evening peak is between 8pm and 11pm.

      "This continues to be in line with what we expected and the daytime peak isn't as high as the level we still see during the evening. So we're confident that our network can deal with a big increase in people working from home."

    • We've had confirmation from the providers that speeds aren't being throttled (slowed down) as a result of the increased demand during this period. 

      With everyone at home, there's been a rise in the use of streaming services and to help take the pressure off the network, Netflix and others have taken steps to lower the amount of data they use on the network. See our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide for more.

  • Broadband is the standard way to connect to the internet but the key differentiator is speed, measured in megabits per second (Mb). There are four main categories:

    • Standard – with average speeds of 10-11Mb. This is the basic level, sometimes called ADSL.

    • Fast fibre-optic broadband – average speeds of 35-36Mb (though some offer 50Mb). This is delivered through more sophisticated glass or plastic wires before connecting to your home.

    • Superfast fibre-optic – with average speeds around 63Mb. Uses the same fibre wires, it's just faster.

    • Ultrafast fibre-optic broadband – with average speeds usually above 100Mb. This requires more sophisticated wiring usually direct to your home, and is only available from a limited number of suppliers. 

    See our Broadband Unbundled tool for more ultrafast deals. 

    Do I really need fibre-optic broadband?

    Fast fibre is best for heavy users – if you do loads of streaming, online gaming, downloading or have multiple users in your home – as doing lots at the same time slows you down.

    Anything faster is very much a luxury – best if you've a large household with many devices, you stream 4K content or 'normal' fibre isn't fast enough for you.

    If you just use the web for basic tasks such as emails and the odd bit of browsing then an average of 11Mb speed should be fine.

    Quick questions

  • To help you navigate this postcode lottery, our Broadband Unbundled tool shows which best buys are available where you live. Standard-speed broadband is available in the vast majority of the UK but there are still odd pockets where you can't get it.

    With fibre, it's still still being rolled out across the UK, though over 90% should now be able to get it. Most big cities have access but some rural areas may not. Ultrafast fibre with top speeds of 350Mb is only available to roughly 50% of the UK, while faster speeds are currently only available to a small number.

  • It varies, but plan for about 10 working days, though if you need an engineer it is partly down to your availability.

    And on the day itself don't worry if you fear Facebook withdrawal, you're only likely to be offline for a few hours, or maybe hardly at all. Here are some more key details:

    • Often, there's no need for an engineer to come round. Only if you need a new line or on some fibre installations. Otherwise just plug any new kit you're sent in.

    • You don't usually need to tell your current provider. The new firm usually does the communication work unless if switching to or from Virgin – here, you must tell your old provider.

    • Many firms insist you pay to receive their router. Though the cost isn't usually prohibitive and we include router costs (where applicable) in all the deals below.

    More switching FAQs

    • Mostly no, but it doesn't hurt just to be sure. Moving to or from Virgin can be slightly different – see below.

      Switching broadband to and from companies other than Virgin Media: Every major provider except Virgin (200+ in total, incl BT, Sky and TalkTalk) is on the BT Openreach network. If you're switching between them, when you sign up for a new deal it's the new supplier's job to notify your existing one and cancel the contract. You don't need to do anything else.

      Moving broadband to or from Virgin: Since Virgin Media runs its own network, the switching process is a little more complicated. You'll need to contact your existing supplier yourself to cancel. It should then give you a termination date, so try to coordinate this with the start date With Virgin Media to avoid loss of service. This is a standard process and you should be able to do it without much hassle.

      Switching TV (whether as part of a package or a separate deal): If you're switching broadband, it works as above. If you're switching a TV deal – whether or not it's with the same provider as your broadband – you'll need to call up and cancel the package yourself. Typically you'll need to give 30 days' notice. If you're still in contract you're also likely to have to pay the remainder of the contract to get out of it. As you have to cancel the old TV deal and sign up to the new one, you'll need to ensure you time it right to avoid paying two TV providers in one month.

    • Since you'll likely be signing a 12-month or 18-month contract, it's worth checking feedback before diving in. We include the results of our latest broadband customer satisfaction poll in all our best buys, so you can see how each provider ranked with other MoneySavers. For the full results see our latest Broadband customer service poll results.

      Our forum's Broadband Board also includes a wealth of feedback, as do sites such as ThinkBroadband and ISP Review.

    • You won't face extra costs if no longer under contract though you may need to give at least 14-30 days' notice depending on your provider.

      If you're still within the minimum term of your contract, you usually have to pay 'early termination fees' to leave. Each provider calculates these differently but it generally depends on the amount of time left on your contract. They should always be less than the cost of the remaining charges on the contract.

      Some providers may charge up to £30 if you're cancelling your broadband and not moving to another firm immediately or if you're moving to cable (although we've heard that some will waive this if contested). Your provider may also ask you to return its router or you risk incurring a penalty charge.

    • Under rules from regulator Ofcom, if the contract was taken out after 23 January 2014, if your landline, broadband or mobile (but not TV) firm raises prices without warning you before you signed up then you are allowed to leave penalty-free.

      But do check the T&Cs as providers may state in there that they reserve the right to hike prices in line with inflation, which would count as a warning. 

      If it happens without warning all you have to do is tell your provider within 30 days of getting notification from it, and you can then leave penalty-free. That said, only do so if you can find a better price.

  • Maybe. It's important to understand that these advertised speeds are based on the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider's current customer base between 8pm and 10pm – when most people are online

    Most have signed up to a code of practice committing to give a personalised estimate and a minimum guaranteed speed before you sign up. So since 1 March 2019, if your speeds drop below this minimum for three consecutive days you can ask your provider to check for a fault – and get it fixed if so. See our Boost Broadband Speed guide for how to check your speed.

    If it remains unresolved for 30 days you should be able to exit your contract penalty-free. This applies both both to broadband-only deals AND packaged deals that include TV and landline phone, provided you bought them at the same time as the broadband. If unhappy with your provider, try free complaints handling tool Resolver.

    If you signed up before 1 March 2019, you may still be able to exit your contract penalty-free – though there's no time limit for providers to fix your speed issues, and you wouldn't be able to get out of a bundled TV deal. 

  • Update: From 25 March 2020, telecoms regulator Ofcom has paused the Automatic Compensation Scheme as providers focus on helping vulnerable customers during the coronavirus pandemic. We've left info on the scheme as it usually works below, for when it becomes relevant again.

    From 1 April 2019, Ofcom's Automatic Compensation Scheme means broadband and landline customers will get money back from their provider when certain things go wrong:

    • If your landline or broadband stops working and is not repaired within two working days of reporting it, you'll receive £8, and then £8 for each day it remains unfixed. 

    • If your new landline or broadband service is not up and running on the day promised you'll receive £5 for each calendar day it's delayed, including the missed start date. There's no limit on this, so you'll keep accruing the compensation until it's sorted. 
       
    • If an engineer doesn't arrive for an appointment as scheduled, or it's cancelled with less than 24 hours' notice, you'll receive £25.

    Compensation is automatically paid as bill credit within 30 working days of the issue. If you choose to leave your provider while you still have bill credit to spend or before you get it, this will be refunded to the bank account you use to pay your direct debit or sent as a cheque.

    Which providers have signed up?

    So far six providers have joined – BT, Sky (including Now Broadband), TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic and Zen – which Ofcom says covers 90% of broadband users.

    Other providers have committed to join at a later date. Here's a round-up of what we know:

    Provider Joined the scheme?
    BT Yes
    Sky (incl Now Broadband) Yes
    TalkTalk Yes
    Virgin Media Yes
    Zen Yes
    EE No
    Gigaclear No
    Hyperoptic Yes
    John Lewis No, it's said it is committed to join but hasn't told us a date
    KCOM No
    Plusnet No, it's said it is committed to join but hasn't told us a date
    Post Office No
    Shell Energy Broadband No
    SSE Broadband No
    Vodafone No
    Should I opt for a provider that hasn't signed up?
    When we analysed the firms that have signed up, none of the current cheapest deals are from a provider that currently has the code in place. This opens up the question of whether to stick with a compensation scheme provider. Here's Martin's view...

    "There is a huge price difference between the very cheapest providers and what most people pay. Someone on an ongoing BT standard broadband contract can save £400/yr switching to the cheapest.
    "Provided that company has a decent service record, I wouldn't pay a big premium for the compensation. Especially as I hope that quite soon most competitive providers will join it. Yet if a compensation scheme member is cheap, pounce on it."
    How do I complain if my provider hasn't signed up?
    Whether or not your provider has signed up to the code, you should still complain if you have issues. A company can't try to fix problems if you don't report them. 
    To help, there's a free tool offered by a firm called Resolver that can draft your complaint and manage it too. If the complaint isn't sorted, Resolver can escalate it to the free Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) or Ombudsman Services, depending on the company you're complaining about.
  • Most broadband packages require you to have a line as the broadband is ultimately delivered down it. However, most providers still make you take out a standard line rental deal as if you'd use the phone rather than a discounted price for broadband only.

    There are a limited number of broadband-only deals, mainly from Virgin Media, but these are usually expensive (though when it has a hot deal we'll feature it below) so it's almost always cheaper to get a broadband and landline package. Of course, you could just get the line and simply not use it.

  • Almost all deals come with unlimited data now, particularly the deals we feature below and on our Broadband Unbundled tool. The fact the best deals have no restriction is good news given our data use has rocketed with catch-up TV, box sets and movie streaming gobbling it up – downloading an episode of Game of Thrones in HD uses up roughly 1GB.

    The other reason for cheer at the competitiveness of unlimited data deals is packages with download limits tend to have costly charges if you go over – BT charges £1.80/GB when you breach the limit.

    Though most new deals offer unlimited data, some legacy packages would still charge for exceeding your allowance, plus we've heard of some retention deals (offered direct from a provider if you try and haggle a new deal) still with a data cap – so always check the details when signing up.

    Quick question

  • Switching usually nets you the cheapest prices, but if you are out of contract – or nearing the end – you could try to haggle your price.

    As there's stiff competition, companies are frantic to keep hold of customers. That is why in our polls on haggling with service companies, communication providers are frequently among the easiest to haggle with.

    In our most recent survey of 5,900+ MoneySavers, more than 80% who tried had success with Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin. For top tips, see our Haggle with service providers guide.

Top deals: Standard-speed broadband & line rental

We've got our pick of the best deals for new customers of each firm below, but to find out what's available in your area – and to compare more options – try Broadband Unbundled, our broadband, phone line and TV comparison tool.

MSE analysis logo

Standard-speed b'band (10-30Mb) – what we'd go for

If you're just looking for basic speeds, our top pick is this Plusnet deal. It's £18.99/mth but you automatically get sent a £60 prepaid Mastercard (almost as good as cash) within 45 days of activation. Factor that in and it's equivalent to £13.99/mth over the 12-month contract.

If you're already with Plusnet, or you don't want to claim a voucher, there's our blagged deal with Shell. It's £19.99/mth but you'll automatically get £50 bill credit added to your account within three months of your service going live, so there's nothing to claim – making it an equivalent £15.83/mth over the 12-month contract.

PROVIDER & AVG SPEED EQUIV COST (1) HOW IT WORKS
Plusnet*
10Mb
Top pick
'£13.99/mth' Go via this BroadbandChoices Plusnet* link it's £18.99/mth, but you automatically get sent a £60 prepaid Mastercard, almost as good as cash, within 45 days of activation. Factor that in and it's equivalent to £13.99/mth over the 12-month contract.
Ends 11.59pm Wed 19 Aug.
Shell Energy*
11Mb
Top pick
'£15.83/mth' Via our Shell Energy* link it's £19.99/mth, but you'll get £50 bill credit within three months of your service going live. This means a total outlay of £189.88 over the 12-month contract, equivalent to £15.83/mth.
Ends 11.59pm Mon 31 Aug.
Note: Our blagged fast fibre deal with Shell is cheaper at '£14.99'. See table below.
John Lewis*
10Mb
'£16.67/mth' Via this John Lewis* link, you'll pay £20/mth, but you'll get a £40 gift card within 60 days of your service going live. Factor that in and it's equivalent to £16.67/mth over the 12-month contract.
Ends 11.59pm Tue 18 Aug.
(1) To compare, we use 'equivalent prices' – adding all fixed costs, deducting any promo cash/vouchers and averaging over the contract.

Top deals: Fast fibre broadband & line rental

We've got our pick of the best fibre broadband deals for new customers of each firm below, but to find out what's available in your area and compare further options, try Broadband Unbundled, our broadband, phone line and TV comparison tool.

MSE analysis logo

Fast fibre b'band (30-55Mb) – what we'd go for

For us, at this speed level, it's our blagged deal with Shell Energy. It's £24.99/mth, but you'll automatically get a whopping £120 bill credit added to your account within three months. Factor that in and it's equivalent to £14.99/mth over the 12-month contract – the cheapest fast fibre broadband and line deal we've seen in three years.

If you're already with Shell Energy or you want to lock in for longer, there's our deal with Vodafone. It's £23/mth, but you'll automatically be sent a £125 Amazon voucher within four months of signing up. If you'd have spent that anyway, factor it in and it's equivalent to £17.80/mth over the 24-month contract.

PROVIDER & AVG SPEED EQUIV COST (1) HOW IT WORKS
Shell Energy*
35Mb
Top pick
'£14.99/mth' Via our Shell Energy* link, you'll pay £24.99/mth, but you'll get £120 bill credit within three months of your service going live. This makes it a total outlay of £179.88 over the 12-month contract, equivalent to £14.99/mth.
Ends 11.59pm Mon 24 Aug.
Vodafone*
35Mb
Top pick
'£17.80/mth' Via our Vodafone* link, you'll pay £23/mth, but you'll be sent a £125 Amazon voucher within four months. If you'd have spent that anyway, factor it in and it's equivalent to £17.80/mth over the 24-month contract.
Ends 11.59pm Fri 14 Aug.
Plusnet*
36Mb
'£19.66/mth' Via this Plusnet* link, you'll pay £22.99/mth, but you can claim a £60 prepaid Mastercard, as good as cash where accepted. Factor that in and it's equivalent to £19.66/mth over the 18-month contact. See how to claim.
Ends 11.59pm Wed 19 Aug.
BT*
50Mb
'£25.33/mth' It's not the cheapest, but some users prefer a big name. Via this BT* link, it's £9.99 upfront, then £26.99/mth over 24mths, but you can claim an £50 prepaid Mastercard, almost as good as cash, within three months of your service going live. When factored in, it's equivalent to £25.33/mth over the 24-month contract. See how to claim.
Ends 11.59pm Thu 13 Aug.
(1) To compare, we use 'equivalent prices' – adding all fixed costs, deducting any promo cash/vouchers and averaging over the contract.

Top deals: Superfast fibre broadband & line rental

If you're happy to pay more, you can get fibre with speeds from 55Mb. Let's make no bones about it, this is the luxury end of the market and isn't usually MoneySaving, but if you've a large family with many devices, or you're into streaming 4K content – or just impatient – this could be for you.

We've got our pick of the top superfast fibre deals for new customers of each firm below, but to find out what's available in your area and compare other options, try Broadband Unbundled, our broadband, phone line and TV comparison tool.

MSE analysis logo

Superfast fibre b'band (55Mb+) – what we'd go for

For us, our blagged deal with Vodafone stands out. It's £25/mth, but you'll automatically be sent a £125 Amazon voucher within four months of signing up. If you'd have spent that anyway, factor it in and you'll pay the equivalent of £19.80/mth over the 24-month contract.

If you want serious speeds and it's available in your area (51% of households can get it), check out this Virgin Media deal. Those new to Virgin Media will pay £24/mth over the 18-month contract, but you can claim a £75 Amazon voucher. If you'd have spent that anyway, factor it in and the cost is equivalent to £19.84/mth.

PROVIDER & AVG SPEED EQUIV COST (1) HOW IT WORKS
Vodafone*
63MB
Top pick
'£19.80/mth'

Go via our blagged Vodafone* link and you'll pay £25/mth, but you'll be sent a £125 Amazon voucher within four months of purchase. If you'd have spent that anyway, factor it in and the cost is equivalent to £19.80/mth over the 24-month contract.

Ends 11.59pm Fri 14 Aug.

Virgin Media*
108Mb
Top pick
'£19.84/mth' Go via this Broadbandchoices Virgin Media* link and you'll pay £24/mth for broadband only (no phone line), but you'll be able to claim a £75 Amazon voucher. If you'd have spent that anyway, factor it in and the cost is equivalent to £19.84/mth over the 18-month contract.
Ends 11.59pm Thu 13 Aug.
TalkTalk*
67Mb
'£21.56/mth' Go via this Broadbandchoices TalkTalk* link and you'll pay £26/mth, but you'll be able to claim an £80 incentive from a choice including a prepaid Mastercard (almost as good as cash). Factor it in and the cost is equivalent to £21.56/mth over the 18-month contract. See how to claim
Ends 11.59pm Wed 12 Aug.
BT*
67Mb
'£27.49/mth' It's not the cheapest, but some users prefer a big name. Via this BT* link, it's £9.99 upfront, then £29.99/mth over 24 months, but you can claim a £70 prepaid Mastercard – almost as good as cash – within three months of your service going live. When factored in, it's equivalent to £27.49/mth over the 24-month contract. See how to claim.
Ends 11.59pm Thu 13 Aug.
(1) To compare, we use 'equivalent prices' – adding all fixed costs, deducting any promo cash/vouchers and averaging over the contract.

Are you desperate to stay with BT?

If you're already a customer, it's worth using the tips above to benchmark the best deal and then try to haggle to knock down your price. BT is one of the easiest firms to haggle with. In our most recent haggling poll, 80% of its customers who tried to haggle had some success. For top tips on how to do it, see our Haggle with service providers guide.

Cashback sites may pay you for signing up

As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account. 

Full help to take advantage of this and pros and cons in our Top Cashback Sites guide.

How to complain about your broadband provider

The broadband industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include installation dates not being met, limited service or slow speeds, incorrect billing and more. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…

Free tool to help you complain

This tool helps you draft and manage your complaint. It's totally free to use, and it's offered by Resolver, a firm we work with to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver can escalate it to the free Ombudsman Services (or CISAS if you're complaining about Virgin Media).

Important: if your issue is about a voucher or incentive that was part of an MSE Blagged deal, then instead just let us know by emailing voucherhelp@moneysavingexpert.com as that's usually quicker.