This content originally appeared in the MSE weekly email on 5 August 2015.
This is a radical experiment. You may've heard of collective switches for energy, where a 'trusted intermediary' (such as us or a council) lets firms bid to provide special, market-beating tariffs. Well, we decided to try it for broadband, using the huge reach of this email (10m recipients) to see what they'd come up with.
We've had a stonking success in one category (TV), decent in two (line and broadband, and superfast) and mostly flopped in one (broadband, no line rent). I've put key info below, yet use our postcode checker which shows which of our deals you can get, and how they stack up against an independent comparison. Here are our winners:
WINNER: Cheapest line rent and unlimited standard broadband
- TalkTalk equiv £11.13/month on 18 month contract (no calls included)
- Cheap best-buy (eg, BT line rent alone's £17/month) and unlike other cheap deals you pay monthly, not a year upfront, plus there's free line installation.
This TalkTalk special deal won. It's available to 95% of the UK (check if you can get it) provided you are a new TalkTalk customer (ie, you don't currently have its line, broadband or TV). Also, if you need a new line, installation is free.
Both its broadband (up to 17Mb) and a router are 'free' with line rental and that's reduced to £8.35/month for 12months, then it's a standard £16.70/month for the remaining six months – so an average £11.13/month over the contract.
How does it compare? It's the market's cheapest, though we've previously seen cheaper. Next cheapest pay monthly is SSE equiv £12/month, or if you pay the line upfront TalkTalk has a £287 deal over 18months, and gives a £100 Love2Shop voucher – factor that as a discount and it's equiv £10.41/month.
Customer service? TalkTalk's ranked poorly in the past – now it's the low end of middle. Sadly, it hasn't agreed to boost customer service for this, so being an 'MSE collective' doesn't, in this case, mean you can expect better. Millions use it without problem, but not everyone, so it's your call.
WINNER: Cheapest line, broadband and 'all-in' TV (including sports and movies)
- Full Sky TV incl sports and movies, SAVE £60+/month over standard price
- Deal 1: Line, TV and unlimited broadband (12month contract) – equiv £35/month
- Deal 2: Line, TV and fibre broadband (25GB/month limit). ADD £30 one-off fee
- Deal 3: Line, TV and unlimited fibre broadband. ADD £30 fee + £10/month
These stonking 12month contract Sky special deals are avail to 93% of the UK, 80% for fibre, (check if you can get 'em). Sadly, you need to be a new Sky customer, ie, haven't had its services for 12months. There are ONLY 15,000+ codes so go quick. Existing Sky customer? Cut costs with Sky haggle tricks.
Deal 1: Pay its £16.40/month line rent and get 'free' unlimited up-to-17Mb broadband. No calls included, there's a £10 set-up fee and the 'free' router has £6.95 p&p.
Deals 2 & 3: For info on the broadband and price see superfast below.
All deals have 'all-in' Sky TV for £17.25/month. With a free Sky+ HD box, free Family bundle and Sky Go Extra, and half-price Sky Sports and Movies. For HD sports and movies, add £5.25/month. Premium non-Sky channels, eg, BT Sport or MUTV (why'd anyone want it? #MCFC) and pay-per-view aren't included.
Add all that in (except HD) and it's £420.75/year, equiv of £35.06/month over the contract. For a new line (including switching from cable) there's a £20 fee.
How does it compare? On the 12month Deal 1 contract you'd pay equiv £35/month with this compared to £102 at Sky's standard price – that's a saving of £800/year. Even the next best Sky deal we can find is equiv £69/month for the same channels – though you can get cheaper if you just want basic TV.
While it's difficult to compare, the cheapest near equivalent we can find via Virgin/BT/TalkTalk is £70+/month (plus you get a £100 Love2Shop voucher). See Digital TV deals.
Customer service? It's providing boosted customer service for this deal, and 77% of its existing broadband and phone customers rate it 'OK' or 'great'.
WINNER: Cheapest superfast fibre-optic broadband
- We failed to get a best buy-beating bid for line rent and fibre broadband only, so the above 'all-in' Sky TV deals are our only superfast winners
- Sky Deal 2: Line, TV and fibre b'band (25GB/month limit) – equiv £38/month
- Sky Deal 3: Line, TV and unlimited fibre broadband – equiv to £48/month
These two 12month contract Sky special deals are available to 80% of the UK (check if you can get 'em). You need to be a new Sky customer – ie, haven't had any of its services for 12months – and there are ONLY 15,000+ codes (for all three deals combined) so it could end very soon.
The broadband speed is 'up to 38Mb' (not its faster 76Mb option) though with fibre, you're more likely to get closer to the rate advertised.
Both these superfast deals have the same line rental and TV package as Deal 1 explained in TV deals above, but here's the extra fibre broadband info:
Deal 2: 'Free' Sky fibre 25GB/month download limit: This is easy to use (go over and it can add charges, but usually just bumps you up, in this case by £10/month, onto its unlimited deal for the rest of the contract.) It's the same price as Deal 1 plus £30 activation, so £450.75/year, equiv to £37.56/month.
Deal 3: Unlimited download: This adds a £30 activation fee and £10/month (half the standard price) to the Deal 1 prices, which means it's £570.75/year, equiv to £47.56/month.
How do they compare? Compared with other line, broadband and all-in TV deals these are very good value. Yet if you just want superfast with basic TV there's a different Sky deal (not in our collective) that can undercut it.
If you don't want TV, just line and superfast broadband, then these Plusnet and Virgin deals are the market cheapest and substantially undercut it.
WINNER: Cheapest broadband ONLY (no line rent) option
- We failed to get any bids at all, barring...
- Relish £15/month available in some parts of central London (12month contract)
I get asked about this constantly, so we tried, to little avail. Plaudits to our only bidder, but it's only for central London and more costly than the winning line and broadband bundle (so you could get that and not plug in a phone).
The Relish special deal is for selected London areas (check if you can get it) and runs off the 4G network, like smartphones. And like smartphones, the signal can vary and may not be as consistent as home broadband. Speeds are 'up to 50Mb' – get a more precise estimate when checking availability.
Its standard deal is £20/month – ours is £15/month but with a refurbished not new router, with a 12month warranty, and the trivial fact it'll offer a £20 Amazon vch for each friend you refer who gets it.
How it compares: Virgin's next cheapest no line rent deal's £28.50/month.
Customer service? Too small for us to have significant feedback.
The MSE Big Broadband Switch Event FAQs
Everything you need to know about the collective switch and how it works...
Q. Does MSE make money if I switch via this?
A. Yes. Typically comparison / editorial sites earn £50 for switching broadband-type deals (it can be much more) – though you still get at least as good a deal as going direct. For this collective switch we mostly earn substantially less to help make the discount stronger.
The money is used to pay the team who've worked long and hard on this collective switch, our overheads and hopefully some profit too.
As always, we only ever write based on editorial independence in the consumer interest as enshrined by our legally binding Editorial Code.
Q. Are these the full details of the deals?
A. No – we've summarised each deal's key points above, but if you go to our site you'll find a full write-up.
Q. What's the switch process?
A. New rules since June mean it's your new provider's job to contact your old provider to switch you – unless you're switching to/from Virgin when you need to call to get a Migration Authority Code (MAC). For more on switching, see Cheap Broadband.
Q. How long does switching take and will I lose service?
Sky and TalkTalk say the switch date'll normally be about two weeks after ordering, though it depends, eg, if you need a new line. You should only lose service for a few minutes (unless switching from cable – then it can be a day).
Q. Can costs increase during the contract?
A. Yes, if firms increase their standard prices, any related prices can rise (eg, if you're on half-price Sky Sports and Sky Sports' price rises, you'll pay half the new amount). The free elements will stay free. If they do increase prices, they'd need to give you at least 30 days' notice and you can (barring small TV price only changes) leave penalty-free within that.
Q. Do I have a cooling-off period?
A. Yes, 14 days. After that, changing your mind generally won't stop you being locked into a contract.
Q. Will I get the speed it advertises?
A. Unlikely. Sadly, we have to use 'up to' as that's the way Ofcom says providers can communicate it. It means only 10% of customers need get the max speed. Your exact speed depends on many factors – use this broadband speed test* to see what you get now and StreetStats* to see what others in your area get with different providers.
Q. What can I do if I don't get decent speeds?
A. Ofcom rules say you can leave penalty-free within three months if speeds fall below the guaranteed minimum (which you'll be told before you sign up). Though from next January you can leave at any point (ie, beyond three mths) if it doesn't meet the minimum.
Q. I'm still in contract – can I switch?
A. You can, but it's likely you'll have to pay a cancellation fee, and the cost of the remainder of the contract.
Q. What happens to the prices after the contract ends?
A. They'll usually shoot right up, but then you're free to ditch and switch or haggle.
Q. Who's responsible for these tariffs, MSE or the firm?
A. They are. Yet we don't use our name lightly so ask all providers to set up special customer help teams with max 48hour response times. They all agreed except TalkTalk as noted above (but we decided to give you the choice).
If something goes wrong with Sky or Relish then contact them via these special emails, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. If, after that and there's still an issue, use our broadbandswitch email, giving your name, address and what you signed up to and we'll try to help (emails from those who haven't collective-switched can't be answered I'm afraid).
Q. Why are these deals only available in some areas?
A. Firms tend to be only able to give the really cheap prices if they have their own kit in exchanges (I'm oversimplifying – it's called 'unbundled exchanges'). Otherwise it's usually either not available, or at a much higher price.
PS: If you're in Hull, sorry, you've a legalised monopoly provider called Kingston, and outrageously no one else is allowed to compete.
Q. Is superfast fibre broadband worth it?
A. If you're only online for web, emails, social media and occasional streaming, probably not – just boost your broadband speed. However if you're a heavy downloader, watch lots of telly or several people in your home use it at once, fibre can be a boon.
Q. Could cheaper deals launch?
A. That's always possible – if so, we'll feature them in our Cheap Broadband and Digital TV guides. Plus, we have imported an independent comparison site into our collective switch results page so you can check how our collective deals stand up against it.
Q. Is there any way to boost my broadband speed?
A. Lots – follow our 14 Broadband Speed Boosting Tips.