Broadband Outages: Coping with UK Provider Downtime

June 2nd, 2023
Broadband Outages: Coping with UK Provider Downtime

Imagine the scene… You’ve settled down to enjoy streaming a freshly released movie, or perhaps catch up with a few episodes of that must-see drama. Or maybe you’re about to achieve that major breakthrough you’ve been working towards in your favourite online game. Suddenly, everything is lost – the broadband is simply not working, and you are left to wonder what your next step should be.

This scenario is frustrating enough if this happens during your leisure time, but if it should occur whilst you are trying to work or study from home, then the repercussions can obviously be more serious. Missed deadlines or simply leaving you looking unprofessional can make a broadband outage far more than just an inconvenience. That’s why it’s important to understand just what to do if your home should experience a broadband outage.

What does a broadband outage mean?

A broadband outage is the term used to describe this sudden loss of connectivity to the internet. Unlike broadband problems that solely affect a single household or workplace, a broadband outage will tend to be spread over a much larger area. This means that there will be a high volume of homes and work premises that will suddenly find that they can no longer connect to the internet. Some outages will be restricted to a relatively small local area, but other more serious outages could lead to a more widespread, or even nationwide loss of broadband connectivity.

Why do broadband outages happen?

To understand why a broadband outage can occur, it’s important to understand how we tend to receive our internet connection. The data that makes up our broadband internet is carried along a network that covers the whole of the country. This is made up of a complex combination of cables, exchange cabinets located on the street and exchanges run by the many different internet providers who are dependent on software to keep everything running.

The success of the whole network depends on each component working as it should, which means that an issue arising in any one of these different elements could lead to a broadband outage. The severity or scale of the outage can depend on which part of the network is experiencing difficulties. For example, if a cabinet on a residential street is the source of the problem, then it will likely only be those homes that it connects to that will experience a loss of broadband internet access.

Possible causes of a broadband outage in the UK

There are a great many reasons why a broadband outage might happen. One cause might be damage to the cables that carry the internet data across the broadband network. Such damage could be due to severe weather conditions (including flooding), or vandalism by anti-social criminals. Older cabling (such as the copper type, which is currently being upgraded across the UK to the fibre-optic alternative) could fail due to the effects of simple wear and tear.

Another common reason for a broadband outage is the impact of high volumes of internet traffic. When a huge number of people are online at the same time, the network may become overwhelmed by the amount of data it needs to move across it. This means that those trying to use the internet will be stuck in a digital "traffic jam" as the network struggles to process all of this data. Such an outage is likely to occur if there is an online event that significantly increases the expected number of internet users at a given time, such as a popular new game release or a big sporting event.

How common Is a broadband outage?

The answer to this question might just surprise you. Research has shown that the chances of being affected by a broadband outage can vary greatly according to where in the UK you live. For example, during the period 2021-2022, those living in the Nottingham area were subjected to more than 70 hours of internet downtime on average, Manchester residents experienced almost 40 hours of outages on average, and Edinburgh suffered from an average of 22 hours without an internet connection.

To find out how your own area or region is performing, there are websites that can show the places where the major internet providers are experiencing issues, often in real-time. This means that if you want to discover the BT broadband down, Vodafone broadband down, EE broadband down or Virgin Media broadband down statistics, it is easy to find the most recent results.

How long will the outage last?

This is a trickier question to answer. The duration of a broadband outage will depend on a number of factors, including the scale of the outage and the reason for it. If the cabling is the reason for the outage, then those premises affected will find themselves unable to connect to the internet until an engineer is able to fix the problem. In some cases, this could mean that those affected will be left without a broadband connection for many days. On the other hand, an outage caused by high volumes of internet traffic could be resolved quickly, usually within a few hours at the most.

Can you prevent a broadband outage?

The bad news is that there is very little that you can do to prevent suffering from a broadband outage. This is because most of the time, the loss of internet connection is likely to be caused by a problem being experienced by the network infrastructure (such as damage to cabling), or by the broadband provider.

However, you can certainly take steps to protect your home or work premises from a broadband outage that is caused by your own equipment. Be sure to take the right steps to optimise your internet connection, such as locating your router in a central part of your home or workplace, where it won’t be obstructed by furniture, walls, or even ornaments and photo frames. Try to put your router somewhere away from other devices such as cordless telephones, microwave ovens, and even dimmer switches, as these will interfere with any Wi-Fi signal. And, for the fastest, and most reliable, broadband connection, choose an Ethernet cable connection to the router rather than using a Wi-Fi connection.

Making sure that you have the right version of your broadband equipment is also important if you want to minimise your risk of experiencing a broadband outage. Make sure that you have the most up-to-date router that your internet provider recommends, as this will have the most recent software installed on it. It might be a good idea to compare broadband deals at a website such as Free Price Compare, to see if you could get a better-quality router by switching providers. Broadband comparison deals should show which model of router is included in each offer, as well as what technology each router model can offer.

What to do if you experience a broadband outage

If you discover that you are unable to connect to the internet, and you are sure that it isn’t just your own home or workplace which has been affected, then it’s time to get in touch with your broadband provider. This is a smart move to make, as it will give you the information you need to find out if the problem is caused by the network or if it is just affecting your own property.

There are several options when it comes to getting in touch with your broadband provider. If you have a smartphone that can still connect to the internet through the cellular network, then you can visit your provider’s website to see if there are any outages listed for your area. There will often be a useful tool such as a postcode checker, so you can get a clear idea of whether there is a network issue that is causing your broadband outage.

 Alternatively, you could check the social media accounts run by your internet provider, such as their Twitter feed or Facebook page. They may well have notified their customers about a problem by posting here and this can also be a useful way to get updates about how long an outage is expected to last.

In the event that you don’t have a smartphone with an internet connection (or simply don’t have any data available to check online sources), you can get in touch with your broadband internet provider by telephone. Call the customer services department to find out about any outage that could be to blame for your loss of internet connection.

What if it’s just your home which is affected?

We have already covered the types of scenarios that can lead to a regional, or even national, broadband outage. But what if it really is just your own home or workplace that has lost its ability to connect to the internet?

If this should be the case, then it’s time to investigate possible causes. It may be that there is some damage to the cable that connects your home to the wider broadband network. Or perhaps there is a problem with the equipment that you use to create an internet connection, such as your router. Take a moment to check the essentials, such as whether your router is connected to a power source (and nobody has unplugged it in order to do the vacuuming!).

Also make sure that your device is connected to the right network, rather than picking up a neighbour’s. This can be a common issue for those in busy residential areas, so be sure to know the name of your home network, allowing you to see at a glance if you are connected to it. You can change the name of your network to one which is more memorable or easy to identify, if this will help your household stay on track.

Making your home network private and password-protected is also a sensible precaution. This will prevent your neighbours from connecting to your internet which may slow your broadband and cost you money. In addition, it will improve your defences against cyber criminals who often use techniques such as "sniffing" to eavesdrop on the internet traffic being sent over a connection.

If you find that your router is plugged in and your device is connected to your own network, then it always makes sense to try switching the router off, waiting a few moments, and then turning it back on once more. Doing this simple move can often resolve any internet connectivity problems.

Your broadband internet provider may also be able to offer help, with many of the big names offering dedicated trouble-shooting services. For example, if you have tried to get online and found your Virgin broadband down, you can also check your Wi-Fi signal’s performance or reboot your router (known as a Hub) via their Connect app. Or if you have found your Sky broadband down, their website offers a broadband site-checker, which allows you to find out the status of their broadband network services in your postcode area.

I really need to access the internet – what can I do?

If you have a smartphone with plenty of data available, then you can use it to browse the internet, make video calls, or stream content whilst you wait for the broadband connection to be restored. And, if you really need to work whilst you wait for the broadband to come back online, then you can try the "tethering" method, to allow your computer or laptop to make use of your smartphone’s internet connection. If you live in a region that has been shown to have a high number of average outage hours, such as Nottingham or Manchester, then it could be worth your while to investigate a mobile phone contract that includes unlimited data. This will allow you to carry on with work or leisure activities online even when your home broadband internet is down.

Will I be compensated for a broadband outage?

Finding that you are simply unable to get online can be an incredibly frustrating feeling, and when the problem stretches on for hours or even days, the situation can become downright inconvenient. After all, in addition to having to put your favourite leisure activities on hold (there will be no streaming TV or movies, downloading music, gaming online, or even just checking your Facebook account whilst you wait for the problem to be resolved), you could also be faced with the prospect of being unable to work or study. With many job interviews now taking place over Zoom too, there really is no limit to the damage that a broadband outage could cause you and your family. And not to mention the raised tensions of a household struggling to cope without their usual access to the internet!

If you have been affected in such a significant way, then it stands to reason that you might wonder if you would be eligible for compensation. The good news is that there is often a rate of compensation payable for broadband internet customers who have suffered significant periods of being unable to connect to the internet.

The Automatic Compensation Scheme (1) is in place to refund around £8 to customers who have been subjected to an internet outage which has lasted for longer than two full days. As the name suggests, the amount that you are due will be credited to your billing account automatically – but you must have reported the outage to your internet provider in order to be in line for any payment. If you have reported the outage, and the problems last longer than two days, you will be compensated to the tune of around £8 for each additional day you are forced to spend without internet access.

Many of the major internet providers are signed up to the Automatic Compensation Scheme, including BT, EE, Sky and NOW broadband, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Utility Warehouse, and Zen Internet, so there is a good chance that you will be able to get some money back if you are affected by a broadband internet outage.

And, if you have had enough of broadband outages that take too long to get resolved, you are entitled to leave your broadband contract without being made to pay a release fee, also under the terms of the Automatic Compensation Scheme.

The scheme also pays out if a new internet connection is not up and running by the date agreed when you signed up, or if an appointment with your broadband provider’s engineer ends up being cancelled by them. In these situations, you can expect a refund of £25 for a missed appointment, or for any appointment that has been cancelled within 24 hours of the agreed date. If your service doesn’t start when planned, you are entitled to £5 for each day that you are left waiting to be connected.

It’s important to note that this compensation will only be available for customers who have experienced broadband outages that were caused by issues occurring across the broadband network away from their homes or workplace. So if you find yourself unable to connect to the internet due to an old or broken router, you won’t be able to make a successful claim.

What if your current broadband just isn’t good enough?

Maybe you are having to put up with regular broadband outages, whilst your friends and family who use a different internet provider aren’t being affected. Or perhaps you have contacted your provider about upgrading your home router, only to be told that there is a significant charge for a replacement. Whatever the reason, if you feel that you simply aren’t getting good value for money from your current broadband contract, it could well be time to start looking for a new one.

There are plenty of tools available to help you make the right choice when it comes to deciding on a fresh broadband deal. But the best place to start is to take stock of what kind of internet performance you are currently receiving. A broadband speed test is quick and easy to carry out online (simply visit your internet provider’s website). This will tell you what your current download speed is in just a few moments. It’s useful to know this, as it will help you to make a comparison with the guaranteed speeds offered by other broadband deals. After all, you won’t want to switch providers and discover that you are now signed up for an even slower service!

Taking the time to do a broadband speed test can also be a good move for those who don’t plan to switch providers quite yet, as some broadband providers will give customers additional tech equipment to help boost a sub-par broadband speed. For example, Sky broadband customers who aren’t able to achieve WiFi download speeds of at least 3 Mbps in every room of their home, could be able to claim a free booster device (subject to already being on the Sky Broadband Booster plan.)

And, once you have made up your mind to make the switch to a new broadband provider, it makes sense to use a free broadband comparison website such as Free Price Compare so that you can get an impartial overview of all the current deals. Don’t be tempted to sign up to contracts that offer more than you and your family really need – those deals which include extra TV streaming services or mobile phone contracts will only be good value if you were planning to buy them anyway. Instead, it’s far more sensible to compare broadband deals on factors such as the length of the contract (it can be significantly cheaper to sign up to a longer agreement), or those which can guarantee a download speed that meets the needs of your household. Don’t pay more for Ultrafast Gigabit broadband if you have a small family and only use the internet for the odd bit of social media browsing.

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