Broadband and the Affordability Factor

 By: Kristina Aldred
The broadband consumers in UK were and are facing problems of connectivity and the issue is being discussed widely in the media and public forums. The performance of internet service providers are often subjected to public discussions. There are many among the consumers who complain that the rates of subscription payable are on the higher side. It is then pointed out that the rates are comparatively lower in UK than in many European countries. Those who avail broadband connectivity without bothering about the cost, complain about the quality of service rendered by the service providers. Speed of downloads, continuity and quantum of downloads are among the contentious issues.

OFCOM, the independent regulator very often comes to the rescue of consumers. They detect deficiencies in the services even in the absence of complaints from the consumers. Unfair trade practices are not tolerated. Disputes between the consumers and the service providers are subjected to adjudication whenever it becomes necessary. The Authority ensures that the migration authorization code is provided to the consumers to enable them to switch supply agency without hassles. In UK there are two machineries for alternate dispute resolution namely the Ombudsman service and adjudication scheme, either of which can be chosen by the consumers. Even though there are no statistics available regarding the number of disputes occurring in a year, reliable information is that disputes raised before redressal forums are negligible.

But there is another dimension to the broadband woes in the country. It is about the affordability. Recession, price rise, wage cuts and underemployment are seriously eroding the purchasing power of the people. Growing number of consumers are finding difficult to pay monthly subscriptions to the internet service providers. The laissez faire regime prevailing in the markets leave the fixation of prices to the industry. Government has no role in fixing or controlling the rates. Competitive market forces the suppliers to adopt self discipline in order to entice customers. But hidden charges are often ignored by the unsuspecting consumers.

Innumerable consumers opt for cheaper services and freebies unmindful about the poor quality of services they receive. Professionals and establishments can afford to choose the best broadband service notwithstanding the cost factor. But students, homemakers, small enterprises and low income groups in the society think twice before concluding contract for broadband. Some of the media reports indicate that there is loud thinking among large segments of consumers that it is better to opt for expensive smart phones and adopt pay-as-you-go scheme than to go for the costly broadband deals. Innumerable cable broadband subscribers have changed over to the above option for the sake of economy.

There is a general perception that in the coming years broadband may become cheaper and affordable, but immediate reaction of the modern consumers is that FTTP and FTTC are unaffordable. They are very expensive when comparing with copper cable broadband. Optic fibre technology, despite its qualitative superiority is becoming very expensive in the given circumstances. Unconfirmed reports indicate that BT is contemplating on revising the targets as far as cable broadband expansion is concerned and planning to undertake LTE trials, taking cues from the market trends.
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