UK ISPs show a bit of blitz spirit

All the UK consumer ISPs have been asked by the government to agree to some measures to help vulnerable customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

BT, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM have all signed up so the measures, which you can see below. We asked CityFibre why they weren’t on the list and they said it was because they understood the initiative was for consumer-facing companies only, but they they’re fully supportive of it. That impression seems to be supported by the measures, which begs the question of why Openreach is involved.

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

It’s great that everyone’s showing the old blitz spirit during this difficult time, but those commitments seems a tad vague. ‘Appropriately supported’? ‘Generous packages’? Let’s see how that plays out. Having said that, removing caps is a positive move, as is the commitment to prioritise the vulnerable for repairs, so it’s definitely better than nothing.

Everyone involved got a canned quote so you might as well see the lot of them.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time.

“It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.”

Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom said: 

“We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important. We’ll continue to work with Government and industry to help make sure people stay connected.”

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division said:

“The service and connectivity that BT provides are more critical today than they ever have been in our lifetime. During this national and global crisis, our priorities are the safety of our colleagues and ensuring that our customers, particularly those that are vulnerable, stay connected. Within the last week or so we focused on implementing a range of initiatives and additional services for our most vulnerable customers and we are pleased to support these sector-wide commitments.

“None of this happens without the dedication of our brilliant teams. I’m particularly grateful to our committed contact centre colleagues who are fielding unprecedented call volumes and helping our customers stay connected.”

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach said: 

“With connections to more than 24 million customer premises across the UK, we know our network is critical.We’ll do everything we can to keep people connected while prioritising our support for critical public services, vulnerable customers and those without a working line.

“Thankfully a large amount of the work we do – including fixing faults, adding capacity and building faster, more reliable full fibre networks – can be completed outside, so you’ll still see Openreach engineers working to maintain service across the UK.”

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media said:

“In these unprecedented times we know how important connectivity is to people’s lives. Alongside the many other steps we’re already taking, we’re committed to helping our most vulnerable customers and ensuring they are supported as much as possible as we work tirelessly to keep the country connected.”

Stephen van Rooyen, EVP & CEO, U.K. & Europe, Sky, said: 

“There has never been a more important time for people to stay connected. We will play our part to help everyone stay in contact with their loved ones and to ensure vulnerable people can access the help and information they need.”

Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

“At this time of uncertainty across the country, nobody should have to worry about connection to friends and loved ones. That’s why TalkTalk is dedicated to treating customers – whether consumers or businesses – with fairness and compassion, so they don’t fear losing service if current circumstances mean they’re struggling financially. We have also established a priority contact line for vulnerable customers, so they can reach us when they need.

“At a time where other bills may be going up, TalkTalk will not be adding inflation to standard bills from 1st April. And while people may need to use more landline calls, they will never pay over our low and fixed price package so that there are no nasty surprises.”

“It’s more important than ever that we all work together to keep Britain connected, and TalkTalk is proud to play our part as a provider of this critical national service.”

Mark Evans, CEO of Telefonica UK (O2), said:

“I’m delighted to see the industry and government  working together to help the UK at this critical time. At O2 we have long-established policies in place to support our customers, and right now, digital connectivity is more important than ever as we connect our customers to vital services and their loved ones.”

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK said:

“Whether you are at home, working from home or a key worker, Vodafone is committed to keeping the UK connected. We know that our technology is making a real difference in helping people through this health crisis.  We are committed to supporting those customers vulnerable to COVID-19, enabling them to keep in contact with friends and family and live their lives as best as possible. We are here for them.”

Robert Finnegan, CEO of Three said: 

“We take our responsibility to keep our customers connected during this time very seriously and are providing the government with our full support where possible. I am committed to ensuring that all of our customers are treated fairly and that they are supported by Three.”

Dana Tobak CBE, CEO of Hyperoptic said:

“Staying connected in these unprecedented times is of crucial importance to society. Our engineers are showing great commitment to provide an essential service to society and value the support and understanding they are receiving from members of the public. We are pleased to commit to these measures to help support the most vulnerable members of society, who must of course take priority in these circumstances.”

Gareth Williams, CEO of Gigaclear said:

“Gigaclear are proud to be playing a vital role in building and maintaining the UK’s digital infrastructure. We are working with our industry partners to support both our residential and business customers who are relying on our service now more than ever. In addition to the measures set out here, we are increasing the speeds of our customers currently on 30mbps products, as well as prioritising vulnerable customers who make themselves known to us.”

Dale Raneberg, CEO of KCOM said:

“As a provider of services people are relying on now more than ever, we are committed to keeping our customers connected throughout Covid-19 and determined in particular to support and protect vulnerable consumers and those who may become vulnerable as a result of it.

“We acted quickly to lift data caps and to provide reassurance that we will assist customers facing financial pressure over the period ahead to ensure they continue to have access to essential communications services.

“We are pleased to join with industry colleagues in putting in place the additional measures announced today and to back the Government’s wider efforts to address this issue we now all face.”

Sky UK and Virgin Media both offer new Universal movies

Self-isolating brits will be able to watch the latest Universal movies without leaving the house via Sky and Virgin Media.

NBCUniversal announced its ground-breaking decision to make new movies available to stream on demand immediately, thus eradicating the cinema commercial window, earlier this week. Sky announced it would offer the facility to its UK customers almost immediately and now Virgin Media has decided to join the big night in party.

As with almost everything else right now, this move is being positioned in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across much of the world schools are being closed, people told to work from home and families increasingly barricading themselves into their homes, emerging only to panic-buy bog roll and pasta. The assumption is that a lot of telly will be watched while this runs its course.

“We’re working hard at Sky to make sure we continue to look after our customers,” said Stephen van Rooyen, EVP & CEO, Sky UK and Europe. “We’re also introducing some things to help make life a little easier for anyone at home trying to work, stay connected to loved ones, or keep the family entertained.”

“In these challenging times, its great news for our customers that they won’t be missing out on the latest cinema releases,” said David Bouchier, Chief Digital Entertainment Officer at Virgin Media. “At a click of a button, friends and families can sit back, relax and enjoy the latest blockbusters from the comfort of their sofa.”

For once we’re not getting ripped off on the exchange rate, with movies like Trolls World Tour costing quarantined Brits £16, compared to $20 in the US. While it’s both understandable and desirable for entertainment providers to be doing their bit to maintain national morale, there may come a time when we don’t have the bandwidth to support this spike in demand. Now that really will be a crisis.

UK advertising watchdog ties itself in knots over broadband marketing

The UK Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that Vodafone’s ‘Gigafast’ service was misleading because some people might reckon that means 1 Gbps.

In reality the brand referred to a range of broadband packages, the fastest of which could still only manage an average of 900 Mbps. Virgin Media thought this was a bit cheeky and so grassed Vodafone up to the ASA, which today upheld the complaint on the grounds that, while some people wouldn’t read much into it, some punters might reckon they would be getting at least 1 Gbps when they weren’t.

“The ASA considered that many consumers would likely understand the prefix ‘Giga’ to be a hyperbolic description of speed, and would therefore generally understand ‘Gigafast’ internet was very fast broadband,” satated the ruling. “However, we considered that a significant proportion of consumers would have sufficient knowledge of broadband terminology to understand Gigafast Broadband as a reference to a service capable of providing speeds of 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps).”

Contrast this with the ASA’s previous ruling on the use of the term ‘fibre’ in broadband marketing. Its conclusion in that case was that hardly anyone would think fibre meant 100% fibre, so it’s fine to just chuck the term around even if loads of the connection was actually over copper. How come people understand giga to mean 1000 Mbps but don’t think fibre means fibre?

To be fair to the ASA there was an additional complicating factor in this case, which is that Vodafone apparently kept banging on about the £23 price point in its Gigafast marketing, when that price only gets you an average speed of 100 Mbps, with the 900 Mbps one costing £48 per month. That seems to be the thing that the ASA most objected to, implying it’s fine with a 900 Mbps average service being called gigafast despite having previously ruled that ‘up to’ claims weren’t allowed.

“Although we considered that the website made clear that Vodafone Gigafast referred to a range of packages which were not all capable of providing 1Gbps, because it implied that consumers could get a service that offered speeds of 1Gbps for £23 per month, when that was not the case, we concluded that it was likely to mislead,” concluded the ruling.

The ASA seems to be increasingly confused about broadband marketing. It seems fine with labelling a package of services, the fastest of which only averages 900 Mbps, as Gigafast and with calling a partly copper connection fibre. At the same time it objects to the use of ‘up to’ in describing broadband speeds and is touchy about ambiguous pricing claims. It needs to either be laissez faire or authoritarian, but right now it seems to jump between those positions on a case by case basis.