back to article 'Boutique' ISPs: Snub the Big 4 AND get great service

As we've seen in recent weeks, broadband in the UK is far from perfect, and in some areas is still disappointingly slow, and with a limited number of choices. Much of the market belongs to a handful big companies such as BT, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin Media. Like big companies in every market, they adopt a particular approach: …

  1. supermoore

    Quick correction

    Both TalkTalk Technology and Vodafone use Dynamic Line Management on their LLU platforms, not just BTW. The protocols are different, with different levels of sophistication. TalkTalk and Vodafone will only manage line rate at the DSL layer, whereas BT then match that with management at the IP layer too.

    The upshot is that on BTW if you replace a crappy filter your line rate will go up fairly quickly, but your actual speed (IP Profile) will lag up to 2 weeks behind unless you go through painful support processes. On the other networks, changes to DSL rate are instantly reflected in throughput.

    1. Anthony Hegedus Silver badge

      Re: Quick correction

      Though I've noticed that sky LLU does this stupid lag thing too.

      And the advantage of talktalk LLU is that they have *some* control at least over the line speed. BTW doesn't.

      It's all due to trying to run a 21st century technology over a 19th century network.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: Quick correction

        19th century network or 19th century company?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quick correction

        "It's all due to trying to run a 21st century technology over a 19th century network."

        Don't they, erm, run over the same last mile network?

    2. ccomley

      Re: Quick correction

      Supermoore - true enough, but another benefit of a small friendly and knowledgeable ISP is once you've changed out the faulty hardware, you can ask them to request a profile reset, which short-circuits that procedure!

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Happy

    A&A ++++

    Can I be the first to post a massive big up vote for A&A.

    The joys of not having to deal with Mickey Mouse call centre staff is wonderful. (Either for technical or billing problems)

    Sure, they don't officially provide out-of-ours support, but a few weeks ago when there was a problem at night, I jumped on IRC and their tech support staff were already on the case.

    In the case of ISPs, big is most definitely NOT better.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A&A ++++

      While I'm sure A+A are a good ISP, for techno junkies especially, I have to say that despite 30+ years in IT, I've found a few of the 'niche' ISPs to have tetchy call handling staff, or I caught them at the end of a long shift perhaps. Additionally, several 'niche' ISPs work a 'business hours' line, so may be closed when a residential use might need them most, on the weekend or evening, and have more limited support. I'm not pointing at A+A but smaller ISPs in general.

      As for fixed IP, I'm quite disgusted that some ISPs charge a monthly fee for this, or require a user to be on a significantly more expensive type of account before offering it. I'm using a couple of landlines, one is using TalkTalk wholesale (but has none of the filtering applied, I feel sure) and the other by Primus (now calling themselves Fuel Broadband {!}) for cheap (5.99 inc) line rental and Plusnet for BB (with fixed IP for which I had an 'opt in' some years ago, but is offered at a once-only fee for new customers).

      Both ISPs have UK call centres, straightforward charges, and truly unlimited usage (I added a second line, as backup, <u>when my usage exceeded 350 GB a month</u>, mostly from downloading free video podcasts on iTunes from Twit.TV, viewing webcams, or "on demand" viewing of 4oD, Demand 5, etc, as I don't work the "9 to 5" and am often asleep from 1600 to 0000).

      With 750K (I think) customers, and rising, they are not without the 1% with problems over billing, installation (sometimes down to Openreach, but then again it's usually the ISPs that get the blame), or other issues. Not perfect (is any ISP?) but pretty good, and in my view a "good value ISP" (my username!).

      I know for business users Plusnet has a dedicated team, on different phone numbers, and while sometimes their residential call centre is deluged with calls, (and launched a second call centre in Leeds to cope with the growth,) they seem to live up to their "open and honest" approach when it comes to problems, and respond on a range of external discussion boards, to all sorts of enquiries, rather than only use their own ticketing / social media / website methods for contact.

      No doubt there will be a few Plusnet haters along any minute but FWIW, I would not have recommended them to family if I felt they were not worthy of giving a mention.

  3. chriswakey

    Xilo is hard to beat

    Xilo (https://www.xilo.net/adsl_broadband/) is fantastic.

    Rock solid connection, static IP, and absolutely no download cap...I approached 700 gig one month* with no complaints from them.

    *my old NAS went tits up with no backup, so I downloaded all the content again, as I couldn't be arsed re-ripping all my DVDs/Blu-Rays

    1. keithpeter
      Windows

      Re: Xilo is hard to beat

      The Talk and Surf product capped at 10Gb/month traffic looks ok to me as it includes line rental.

      Now to investigate the *process of switching* (groan) both Internt (EE) and phone line (BT). Sigh...

    2. batfastad

      Re: Xilo is hard to beat

      +1 for Xilo

      Went there for their O2 Wholesale connections after my Be connection was about to be migrated to Sky. Unfortunately O2 Wholesale were sold off so had to migrate to a TT wholesale connection. Not actually noticed any difference and Xilo handled the whole thing really well.

  4. Gavin Hamill

    Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

    Zen have been going since 1995, don't limit, don't police, don't get in the way and I would heartily recommend them having been a customer since the dial-up days!

    1. RustyNailed

      Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

      That's was I was thinking. I was with Zen for several years of extremely good service (both delivery and customer) before moving abroad. I just wish I could get them here ;)

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

      Every attempt of mine to get through to Zen's press contact line while I was writing this piece was met with hold music. Had it not been for that, they would certainly have been mentioned.

      1. No Quarter

        Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

        If you rang support, they would have answered straight away.

      2. Ian Emery Silver badge

        Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

        I dont know what is going on at Zen, they have lost a lot of potential customers in the last 12 months by failing to answer phone or email enquiries - and not just a few isolated cases either, a LOT of people on the ISP forums - including the Mods - have commentated on it.

        A pity, because they are a VERY good ISP.

        (I couldnt get through to Zen despite 2 weeks of trying - and I was in urgent need of a new ISP after my old one went rogue on me - so signed up with Aquiss - who are also very good at tech support).

        1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

          Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

          It could be argued that perhaps the smaller ISPs don't want 'a lot of potential customers' if it means expanding to the point that their service suffers.

          There is little point in recommending an ISP aimed at techies to Nan and Grandad. The filter that is first line support is there for a reason, as much as it might irritate us.

          That said, if they do start to get bigger, they will probably follow Plusnet's lead and get bought out...

        2. Peter Foulkes

          Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

          "I dont know what is going on at Zen"

          I sadly have to agree. I've been a Zen customer for many years and found their telephone support, both technical and administrative to be exemplary.

          Until recently.

          50% of my recent contacts with them have been very poor. I changed to FTTC and the first technical contact's knowledge was dismal. Second person I spoke to was up to their previously high standard. The last time I spoke to someone in accounts who was rude and unhelpful enough for me to consider terminating both of my contracts with them. Other calls have been a disappointing experience and the time it takes to get through has increased drastically.

          I have publicly endorsed and recommended Zen in the past. I rated them that highly as a company to deal with. They were a refreshing change and I was quite willing to pay more for my broadband just because I liked the company and their apparent ethos. My experience in the last 3 months is that they are not the same company.

          Peter

    3. M Mouse
      Meh

      Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

      Have they actually come up with any statement on IPv6 yet? I've seen a few comments that users don't know when they will support it and Zen seems hardly keen to clarify their plans... though I think they had some trial running a while back.

      By the way, I quite agree that it looks very much to be an advertorial, while on the other side of the fence, at least it comes up in the Newsnow headlines about ISPs, so might 'inform' a few about options other than the big 4 (/5, /6) ISPs.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

        Well, it's certainly not advertorial - no consideration asked for, offered, or received in respect of any of the ISPs mentioned.

        Weekend features have less hard tech in them than weekday ones. We wanted to explain the possibilities available, rather than give an exhaustive list. So I aimed to mention a few examples, based on both personal experience and who I could get comment from in the time allowed.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

      Zen don't seem to know what IPv6 is. That's a pretty big failing.

      1. M Mouse

        Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

        Good to see someone commenting on Zen and IPv6 gets upvoted - maybe my comment was downvoted as some people can only cope with 140 characters or less :)

        PS But I felt sure Zen had had some IPv6 trial... or was that when they proved a lack of clue ?

    5. Evan Essence
      Meh

      Re: Where is Zen Internet in this advertorial?

      Where is Zen's IPv6 service?

  5. jason 7 Silver badge

    I've seen these kind of ISPs before.

    You suddenly get a buzz around the office "Oh this ISP is fantastic...super speeds...super price..amazing!"

    A haze of smug wafts around the office.

    And they are great...for the first few months, then standards just nosedive and folks are moving on to the next latest and greatest.

    1. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: I've seen these kind of ISPs before.

      Several down votes - these will be the people who STILL believe that £1.99 a month can get you fast, unlimited broadband.

      My favourite ISP scam was the guy who figured out the flaw in a certain major ISPs "First three months Free" package a few years back - and earned himself a six figure sum before legging it out of the country.

      1. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: I've seen these kind of ISPs before.

        "Several down votes - these will be the people who STILL believe that £1.99 a month can get you fast, unlimited broadband."

        Or maybe they down-voted Jason 7 because he missed the point. The ISP's in the article have all been around for a while, and certainly more than "six months".

        Zen started in 1996, AAISP in 1997, Xilo in 2007, ICUK and Merula have been around for a while too.

        There are plenty of cheap ISP's that have started well and gone to crap in a matter of months, and there are plenty of "Elder God" ISP's out there that have turned into rebranded services (Demon, Pipex, Nildram ?) or seem to have gone nowhere (ClaraNet ?). None of the ISP's in this article belong in either of those categories.

        I've been with AAISP for nearly ten years, and the service has been consistently good. I hear lots of good things from folks on Zen and Xilo too.

    2. M Mouse

      Re: I've seen these kind of ISPs before.

      Just wondering if you had a particular ISP in mind as the target of suspicion ?

      It's perhaps true to say there are a lot of ISPs one may never have heard of, but I am sure I've heard of all of the ones mentioned in the article and comments. I know of none that are 'younger' than maybe 5 years but clearly you think that 'niche' = 'risky' ...

    3. ccomley

      Re: I've seen these kind of ISPs before.

      Jason7 - you may have mis-understood what Nigel was getting at. The names he mentioned have all been around for many years. Yes, there's always the risk of the fly-by-night cowboy brigade who've worked out they can get a quick profit out of setting up an operation, locking in a few customers, then legging it before the bills need paying. Some of us have been around for over 20 years however. (And yes, that's pre-broadband and pre-dial-up - not all of us started out as ISPs!)

  6. Andy Tunnah

    Jammy git

    I dunno how but I've always been blessed by the God Of Awesome Interwebs.

    From being one of the very first users of broadband at 512mb, to truly unlimited Pipex 8mbit (even though after I moved out they tried to screw my parents by changing the contract, then issuing them a £2000 bill ha), to getting Sky which has been nothing but an absolute pleasure - 24mbit for a tenner, now up to 40mbit for 20 quid, and I abuse it like a champion.

    I'm a storage whore, cloud just doesn't sit well with me, so have about 90tb local storage, and it's not uncommon to do 2tb/month or more. Never had an issue or complaint, or throttling of any kind.

    The only time I've not been happy was when my missus passed away, I went to stay with a mate for a while, get away from things, and he had 100mbit...when I finally came back home, 40mbit seemed almost archaic. But he has throttling, and can only open up at certain times, which is a bit of a pain.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Jammy git

      "I'm a storage whore, cloud just doesn't sit well with me, so have about 90tb local storage, and it's not uncommon to do 2tb/month or more."

      Crikey! Do you run

      rsync -avz root@youtube.com:/mainstorage /myYouTubeBackup

      every night?

    2. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Jammy git

      I'm the reverse - some ISP's go up like a Bond Baddie's hide-out after I've been with them for a while !

    3. ccomley

      Re: Jammy git

      When I first bought a car with "traction control" it was horrible. If the wheels started spinning, the TC just backed off the throttle and kept it off for half a second to a second. It felt like something was wrong with the engine. Nothing you could do could get it to start trying to turn the wheels again until it was good and ready. Now modern TC systems work by momentary dabs of brake to the spinning wheel and letting non-spinning wheels continue to dive, and it all happens so quickly you tend not to even notice it, until the TC system fails and you realised just how much loose gravel there is on that hill there or how slippery the carpark behind Marks is...

      In similar vein the bandwidth management tools used by some ISPs are way more subtle these days. I think you'll find that any bit-torrent, emule, or other similar traffic that you may be using to fill up that 90TB store will run flat out much of the time. But at times when the core network is busy, your traffic will be "de-prioritised". That doesn't mean it WILL slow down, but it means it MIGHT slow down at moments when there's enough higher priority traffic to need all the available bandwidth. This really doesn't matter for the sort of process where you're not sitting waiting to launch an app or start reading a document as soon as it finishes downloading.

      However, it MAY matter to some, and for them, totally unrestricted service can be arranged. Yes, it costs a little more, but it's their choice.

      Sadly, there are still some systems where the newer subtleties have yet to be discovered, and they work on an older model of bulk traffic WILL be slowed down.

    4. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Jammy git

      "The only time I've not been happy was when my missus passed away, I went to stay with a mate for a while, get away from things, and he had 100mbit...when I finally came back home, 40mbit seemed almost archaic."

      I don't wish to sound callous, but the wording of your post seems to imply that you were more unhappy about only having 40mbit instead of 100mbit than your wife passing away.

      I'm sure I'm wrong, I just wanted to get clarification so I didn't misunderstand.

      1. Andy Tunnah

        Re: Jammy git

        That was what you took away from that ? You're a strange duck.

        My missus passing was what caused me to go live with a friend, which is when I experienced 100mbit. Upon returning home 40mbit seemed almost archaic, which is pretty much the only time I've been sad at my internet.

        Better ?

  7. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Takeover time

    In the past I've been with several smaller ISPs, usually because they offered a better deal, or better service. And they did for a couple of years....until they were sold to one of the big players and it was time to move on.

    At the moment I'm with BT Business, who aren't bad, and at least have UK call centres. When FTTC finally arrives I'll maybe shop around again.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Takeover time

      There certainly has been a hell of a lot of consolidation - many of the names that featured in some of the early ISP roundups I did for PCW have long since vanished.

      But a lot of the others do seem to manage to remain independent, either through being so small that they're probably not a likely takeover target, or through doing the sort of hybrid trick of being both an aggregator and a direct seller (Zen, Merula, ICUK, AAISP).

      It's possible that, in time, some of those might be swallowed up by some of the big four, certainly. But by and large they seem to have enough scale to keep going on their own, and they've never really been chasing the low margin end of the market.

      I think that in the case of a fair few of those that fell by the wayside, it was the chasing after volume and low price at the same time that tended to prove their undoing.

      1. M Mouse

        Re: Takeover time

        Sorry, just a quick aside, Nigel, but did you work at OUCS quite a long time ago (25+ years is about the time when I worked in another institution, on the south coast).

        1. Nigel Whitfield.

          Re: Takeover time

          Nope; never worked there. Though (distressingly!) there are other Nigel Whitfields available.

          1. M Mouse

            Re: Takeover time

            Re Nigel Whitfield(s) - Ah, OK.

            Yes, there are a distressing number of MyName MySurname too.

            Around 200 of the blighters, when checked in the late 1990s

      2. ccomley

        Re: Takeover time

        We're often asked "are you selling the business?"

        Well we're not. And we won't. The only time that's likely to happen is if the main folk involved reach retirement age, and the plan then would be to back out gracefully whilst finding the customer base new homes which supply the same sort of service we try to supply, rather than dump the whole thing off on <no name mentioned> and run.

        We realised we could make more money out of our business if we ran it differently, automated more processes, used cheap "follow the script" support methods, websites which make it nearly impossible for you to find out how to call an actual person, etc., but we choose not to. And we would design our exit strategy, when the time comes, in a similar manner.

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Takeover time

      The first ISP I was on were Technocom in Slough who invited me over for tea and biscuits, followed by a tour of their co-location areas. They got taken over by Easynet who were I think ok (I can't remember now TBH), but one of my clients wanted me to setup their system with a company called Frontier in Wales. The thing with Frontier was that you got a fixed IP, no blocking of ports and comprehensive technical support. I switched allegiance to them (as a reseller) until the bitter end when they got taken over by Mistral. Mistral started bombarding me with invoices for services I'd never ordered and they were a vile company to deal with, for that reason. Finally got over 50 credit notes from them, which was round about the time of their take-over by Kcom (draw your own conclusions if you will) As a result of that experience I've vowed never to be the middle-man for an ISP ever again.

      My experience with take-overs then is that they can be very disruptive, and I worry that my current ISP (Zen) will sooner or later succumb to a similar fate.

  8. Mage Silver badge
    Alert

    Columbia Internet for Canuks?

    Archive 1997 - 2006

    Not real. But the author was originally a Web guy for a real Canadian ISP, not Rodgers.

    The bigger ISPs have a disconnect between Customers and Management.

    1. Riku

      Re: Columbia Internet for Canuks?

      When I worked at Earthlight back in NZ, we loved this strip and used to wonder where Illiad had hidden the cameras - many of the conversations and support calls were so close to our daily reality!

    2. ccomley

      Re: Columbia Internet for Canuks?

      Userfriendly is on our daily reading list here. As is Dilbert.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Demon

    Demon was long ago a nerd's ISP. Then it was taken over by Thus - (and now Vodafone).

    However they seem to have offloaded the obviously domestic services to Thus with limited hours overseas call centres.

    Their "business" services are moderately priced and always come with a fixed IPv4 address. The 24x7(?) call centre is in the UK. Possibly by coincidence the reliability of my home ADSL improved dramatically after switching to a BusinessLite contract. The recent long break was the first for many years. The download cap is 60gb a month - but transfers in the wee hours are not counted. For a few pounds more you can have "unlimited".

    They lost their mail "push" facility a while ago. They used to filter web traffic - possibly using the Internet Watch blacklist which often appeared to block perfectly innocent sites. Since switching to the "business" contract there have been no "blocked" messages. Possibly the filter is more selective or they don't have one - or possibly I don't link hop so randomly these days.

    They are not perfect - but just balancing on the right side so far for my needs.

    1. Gary Heard

      Re: Demon

      I remeber Demon in the old days swinging from great service to crap to good again as the servers and lines were improved. Was still with them until Thus just destroyed them.

      Since then have both my phone and BB with ICUK, they aren't perfect, but they helped me resolve a problem in the BT (Tier 1) exhange that ended with the DSLAM being changed to something modern and, I think, speeded the change from 20 to 21CN. Just waiting for my "Superfast BB" now, programmed for March -- we shall see

  10. Andy Livingstone

    White mice running round a wheel

    The BT monopoly called Market 1 is still the sole choice of many.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: White mice running round a wheel

      Yep; and around 10-15% of people may be connected to 20CN rather than 21CN.

      However, while in a Market 1 exchange you may still have to rely on BT wholesale for the DSL link, that doesn't mean you can't go with some of these ISPs. You may be limited in terms of speed (especially on 20CN) and companies rely on the LLU offerings from C&W or TalkTalk are out, but you should still be able to find someone who can offer you a more customised service, even in Market 1, than if you simply take the BT option.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Market 1 options include AAISP, Zen, and others in between

        Market 1 options include AAISP, Zen, and others in between.

    2. ccomley

      Re: White mice running round a wheel

      Yes and no.

      Yes, there are still many Market 1 exchanges, that means, as you say, you can only buy your internet service supplied via BT's core network.

      But that does NOT mean you have to buy it from BT.

      You still have the choice of which ISP you go to for your retail service.

      You can't magically get CN21 or FTTC where the exchange only offers CN20 that way.

      But you do choose how your bandwidth is managed, packaged, and supported that way. And you also get to move your phone line away from BT if you want to - that can save you a small fortune. :)

      Buying a "resold" BT circuit cuts BT's *retail* operation out of the loop, sales, and support. Yes, your traffic still needs to run over BT's core network and yes, any fault in that network will still affect you as well as all your neighbours, but you can get better service in all other regards.

  11. gerdesj Silver badge

    Entanet

    I switched from AAISP to Entanet purely because I needed unlimited usage. I stream backups from the office ...

    AA were excellent - great support and fully transparent about what was going on. Very knowledgeable staff. A fully routed connection with /29 IPv4 and a /48 IPv6, no questions asked. They gave my office connection a /27!

    Entanet: support not quite so good as AA but still responsive. /29 or /28 IPv4 is a one off payment of a few quid, /64 IPv6 as standard. 80/20 FTTC fully unlimited ie over a TB on occasions - £28 pm. Admittedly I am the reseller (so I don't actually pay quite that much) but even so it will be of that order for an end consumer. I note that the best Wizards will do is £150 pm at 40/10.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Entanet

      Entanet sounds great - except end-users like us can't buy services from them :-(

      So, which resellers should we look for who resell Entanet 80/20 FTTC at £28 pcm? (I'm guessing that's +VAT)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Entanet

        One of the possible snags with resellers is that although they might be using Wholesaler A this month, it's entirely possible (depending on Ts+Cs) for them to be able to swap punters from Wholesaler A over to Wholesaler Z instead, without even notifying (let alone consulting) the punters affected.

    2. ccomley

      Re: Entanet

      Oops - you remind me that once again the price list on our website is out of date. One of the problems of a smaller operation is there's always a To Do list!!

  12. Steven Raith

    IDNet

    Just to say that I've had great service from IDNet since I started using them some four or five years ago - no complaints at all other than that they do bandwidth caps, but given the actual service they give (no throttling, no congestion of any measurable level at any time of day, IPv6 over PPP etc) I'm OK with that.

    My work have a good relationship with A&A and offer a free connection with them as part of the employment, so I really must put the two aside each other and see how they stack up.

    In the past I've been with Central Point (before they were bought out), Be* and Demon - I've seen how the big players operate and it doesn't appeal to me. My brother would be fine with it, but I do prefer to have a smaller, more focussed ISP who have the same ethics as myself when it comes to how the internet should be used.

    Steven R

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IDNet

      Another upvote for IDNet - only reason I'm still not with them is because my other half was locked into a Sky contract

  13. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    What about Downtown Abbey?

    We are fortunate in Canada to be limited to two monopoly providers with the government careful to keep out competition.

    This is necessary to protect and promote Canadian culture.

    With all these choices of good quality low cost services isn't British culture doomed?

  14. Martin-73 Silver badge

    M247 is pretty good too

    Been with them since they borged Webtapestry. Decent service, not the cheapest (that seems to be a theme, you get what you pay for) but knowledgeable staff, and wonder of wonders, 24hr UK customer service. Where you actually talk to someone who knows stuff.

    Have at the moment a particularly pernicious line fault, they did annoy me a little by allowing voda (the LLU provider for my line) to rate limit it to solve mask the fault, but when I kicked off, they agreed to switch me to a talktalk circuit. Not the cheapest for FTTC, but their LLU ADSL2+ is decently priced with sensible download caps (I'm not capped, being a holdover from webtapestry)

  15. Paul

    I'm amazed The Register can write an article about broadband without mentioning Entanet, from whom many smaller ISPs buy service.

    This article was pretty short on useful facts.

    Like why BT Wholesale is more expensive than TalkTalk and others? Hint: BT Openreach control the market, and BT Broadband doesn't have to make a profit despite in theory paying the same prices as all their competitors.

    What about a discussion censorship to limit access to pirated software and pr0n, the abuse of the cleanfeed mechanism, and the default being to turn filters on.

    Please go away and write a real discussion about how consumer broadband is actually done in the UK.

    1. jotheberlock

      Err

      It's an article about alternatives to the big players, not about the consumer broadband market in its entirety. Plenty of other articles on this site if you want that.

  16. Dave Bell

    The problem I have with the big ISPs is how they sell their service. They'll tell you what speed they can deliver over your phone line, with the usual "up to" scammery in the general advertising, but eveyone needs a decent speed to the wider internet for streaming video, and the sales side doesn't seem to have any information on that aspect. I am getting wonderful promises for FTTC, but they can't even tell you whether there will be faster delivery of the actual data you want.

    One big name has actual staff and a display stand in the shopping precinct in Scunthorpe. They do sell something more than just broadband, but they must be paying a couple of hundred quid a day to get a trickle of new customers.

    I want to pay for internet, not for bored, scrioted, salesthings.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      This is a big problem; it's pretty much impossible for any ISP to have enough capacity for all their customers to be running flat out at the same time. They rely on the fact that most people's traffic is a bit stop-start - load a web page, the line sits idle while reading, then load another, and so on.

      That just about got them through to start with, and they were happy to throw money at marketing and boasting cheapest ever deals to get punters through the door, rather than at investing in support or actual internet infrastructure.

      Over the years though, thanks to YouTube, iPlayer, and now things like Netflix and Amazon Prime, that model has changed, to the degree where a substantial number of their customers aren't doing stop-start traffic, but are streaming.

      When that started to bite was when some ISPs decided to try and make a noise about the BBC having to pay them for traffic. And it's caused real problems for some who chased the budget market; I suspect it's what put paid to some of those who fell by the wayside over the years - the investment required to catch up and cope with modern traffic patterns just became too large for them.

      Various fudges have made the crunch perhaps a little less awful than it could have been, and modern codecs mean you can stream video in much less than the capacity of an average broadband connection now, so that leaves wiggle room.

      However, there does seem to be a fairly big difference in terms of capacity management these days; smaller outfits will try to do their best and not be the bottleneck, as much as they can. Larger ones will do what they think they can get away with, and try to avoid mentioning it, or waffle about 'network management' and 'traffic shaping' if you really try to get them to say something.

      Twelve month contracts are the norm; with loss leader three month periods, and options to grab money via domestic phone calls, line rental and so on, they probably do think it's worth the money to pay a few people (probably on min. wage) to stand around and sign folk up. Give it a while, and it wouldn't surprise me to see some big ISPs trying to shift up to 18 month contracts, just as we've seen with phones.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And a big hello to MacAce.net

    When my business rented an office, a period of some 7 or 8 years, I found MacAce.net to be a very reliable supplier for both phone and broadband. Never had any bother, remarkably helpful in finding solutions so that I could do what I wanted to. When I retired, the office went, and with it their connection. But that was the only reason I could think of for terminating their services.

  18. bigphil9009

    AAISP

    Are also XKCD/806 compliant, which is nice.

  19. david.channon

    Not run stuff "from home" for years....

    Do many people still run stuff from home? Servers of any kind.....

    I have not done that for years - just run everything in which ever cloud service fits best.

    Google Apps, AWS etc.

    Used to run my own personal services from home - but over the years found them far more hassle than it was worth. Power cuts, setting static IP's up,

    Now at the point where my even my working desktop is clouded and I just work from that where-ever and on what ever device I happen to be on!!

    10 years ago used to spend lots of time sorting out home network and ISP - but now just go with what ever - total time spent now is much more efficient.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Not run stuff "from home" for years....

      I do. I've run my own mailserver for years (we did a two part piece in PCW about setting one up, using a small Via system, and OpenBSD). I hoard all my mails, and having them on a server here means that even if the net connection is down, I can still find that contact I asked about something for an article donkeys years ago.

      Admittedly, that may be something of an edge case for many. But it ensure that I have an IMAP server (which back then, wasn't so common), with all my mail available on every device, should I need it. When out and about, it's easy to send something via that server, with my own domain details, too. It's all under my control, and no one else is logging. Now that people are worrying about the NSA, Google and record retention, I'm even happier.

      Similarly, I run my own SIP server for the phones; again, likely an edge case as I work from home, and have a range of numbers used for different things. Some of it could be done in the could, but I prefer to have the control here.

      The final one I a VPN server; seldom used, but can come in handy when I am on an insecure connection, or just want to appear to be at home. Again, I could subscribe to a VPN service, but I prefer to keep control for myself.

      You're right in that much of this can be done in the cloud, and for many people that will be better. But some of us still enjoy a good tinker.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not run stuff "from home" for years....

      Cloud is not the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

      given that most Cloud providers are part of US companies then NSA snooping is IMHO a given.

      As has been mentioned some of us do like to run our own servers. I run a Blog and an Email Sever on an IEEE Box. Average power consumption 15W. Conected to my office UPS

      Backed up nightly to my NAS, it sits quietly on a shelf in my Office. I bought a spare box off fleabay for 100GBP last month.

      Now why should I trust my data to a cloud supplier (and pay more/month than I currently do) ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not run stuff "from home" for years....

        For those who primarily want a 'disaster recovery' solution with limited retrieval much of the time, Amazon's Glacier product might be worth considering.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not run stuff "from home" for years....

      It depends on what you want to run from home. You could (I suppose) access house CCTV via some cloud service, but I've no doubt there are several other reasons for use of non-cloud connections direct to home/office, such as being able to see and speak to the person at your front door, when you're going to an appointment the other side of the city / country.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. BongoJoe

    Do One Thing And Do It Well

    I am with Eclipse and I see them as a slightly largish boutique ISP. Yes, they are more expensive than if I went with one of the Big Four.

    But whilst my mates on Virgin Media or BT struggle with frequent outages and speed issues I have never had any problems caused by Eclipse.

    If their level of service remains as it is then I can't ever see me moving. And when I do ring up their support I get straight through and none of this 'turn everything off and then on' script nonsense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Do One Thing And Do It Well

      I used Eclipse about 12 years ago, and had few problems (and an overseas router problem was sorted within an hour of my phone call), but vaguely remember Support staff working office hours (perhaps extended to 22:00) M-F (rather like some smaller ISPs) and that (plus price) led me to consider other ISPs.

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Do One Thing And Do It Well

      I can only second you here... I'm currently dealing with a case through Eclipse... their LLU support person's/people's service is exemplary. Due to a 40 year-old cable finally giving up the ghost, they've handled Openreach comms and kept me informed, and do their utmost to keep me connected.

      As much as sometimes Eclipse's attitudes to some suggestions can be a PITA, the fact that my line rental is 1/3 cheaper than BT (despite being a 'package') and that their tech support in Exe'er is superb, I'm not moving anywhere. Unfortunately though, Eclipse has quietly removed home DSL options from their site... they brand themselves as a business ISP now. :-/

      1. paulf Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Do One Thing And Do It Well

        I've been with Eclipse for about 12 years now. I moved across from ClaraNet after their ADSL service deteriorated while remaining incredibly expensive for what it was (well beyond the Boutique mark up discussed here).

        Eclipse have been generally excellent to the point I've got my parents on Eclipse also. If there is a problem they can ring a patient helpful person in Exeter who talks them through a solution.

        I moved over to FTTC with Eclipse about 15 months ago (primarily because the ADSL line length meant pitiful speeds, while the FTTC cabinet 100m away delivers 70Mbps+) and the service has been great with truly unlimited at the weekends. I do notice occasional throttling on iPlayer but I can't pin it down to one cause as it can happen at any time. Otherwise they're excellent and on the rare occasion they drop the ball they do make it right quickly. Static IP is included free on all packages I've been on.

        Sad to see they've gone business only - they've assured me they're still interested in their existing home customers but we'll see. I found out some time ago, anecdotally, that they resell a Tiscali wholesale product for ADSL. I don't know if that is still the case but if their sudden lack of interest in home users mean they sell us all to Tiscali or BT (like Vermin media did to their ADSL customers recently) I'll be referring to this article for ideas on who to migrate to!

  22. Oldfogey

    But what about low usage?

    Most comments are interested in high levels of usage and/or superfast speeds, but I have rather the opposite problem.

    Every couple of months I visit my mother in law for a week - do some jobs, check out her finances, take her out to lunch a couple of times, etc.

    The real pain is that I have to use mobile internet whilst I'm there - 3g only, and badly congested until after midnight; even then any sort of video (even flash) is impossible.

    Phone service is with BT (of course), and I would love to have broadband, but where can I find an ISP offering a cheap service with a low data cap such as 1Gb a month being perfectly acceptable?

    Do any of the small ISP's offer such a deal that anybody has come across?

    1. ccomley

      Re: But what about low usage?

      Yes, of course they do. Truth is, some of the *really* cheap package deals you see advertised on telly may be cheaper than the lowest we could do. But you say the phone service is with BT, and you can save a lot by moving that which would contribute to cheaper low-use broadband. Best way to find out is give us a call, and if you have your last phone bill to hand when you do we can work out how much cheaper that would have been.

      The one thing we can't do, and not sure any of the ISPs that are the subject of this article could, is offer you a deal including television service.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But what about low usage?

      Few are likely to offer as low as 1 GB. The old Metronet would have perhaps been useful as they had a low starting fee and you paid for what you used. Post Office, BT and (until recently) Plusnet all had 10 GB accounts (may still be worth ringing Plusnet even though all visible accounts on website are now unlimited).

      Add to that, if she's in a rural area or has no choice of non-BT Wholesale, costs for landline services tend to be bumped up, and there's no option of using LLU services (so the Post Office at a fiver a month, might not be available if there's no TalkTalk connection at the exchange... and if you had to switch phone line rental, then the option of 144/year for the Post Office (TT) line rental deal would be off the table too.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    niche ISPs

    all's well until they're taken by the big boys. And it DOES happen. As long as they gain some foothold (reasonably large "customer base") they get an offer than you can't refuse.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    All well and good but

    here is my choice (and I'm spoilt)

    Standard broadband: Up to 17Mb (estimated speed: 3Mb)

    Yes love the up to vs estimated (by previous experience it's actually about 1.7)

    Usual mob:

    BT

    Plusnet

    Sky

    Virgin

    EE

    Fibre optic broadband: Up to 76Mb

    BT or Plusnet

    So BT or BT it it then.

    1. ccomley

      Re: All well and good but

      Yes, *BT WHOLESALE* it is. But you still have a HUGE choice of your retail supplier for the service.

      Frankly, the wholesale FTTC product is pretty good, once you have it in and running. But you don't have to buy it from BT Retail.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: All well and good but

        I suspect he's referring to FTTP. Which only BT provide at the moment.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Meh

          Re: All well and good but

          Nope FTC, however have noticed Zen and IDnet are doing it, which they didn't a year ago. Everyone else mentioned in the article and the comments just give me ADSL.

          But idnet, sorry but don't like this "option"

          "Traffic Priority Optional +£10/mth"

          To be fair my BT link has been rock solid. And asa they say, if it ain't broke....(having had uttely shit service from Orange and pretty good service from 02 before)

          1. ccomley

            Re: All well and good but

            Everyone mentioned in the article probably, and we (Wizards) definitely can offer you ANY service available from BT Wholesale on the BT network including ADSL, ADSL2+, FTTC, and FTTP. AND we can offer services, if they are available on your exchange, from C&W, TT, and Easynet networks.

            I apologise if this isn't apparent from our website which, as I mentioned earlier, is in need of an update.

            If you want more information, please call!

        2. Lewis Greaves

          Re: All well and good but

          Thats's not entirely true, where I live a company called Hyperoptic offer FTTP at very good prices at the moment. Hoping when my BT contract ends I will be able to make the swap at a similar price.

          1. RollingThunder

            Re: All well and good but

            I've heard of Hyperoptic but was wondering if you live in an apartment block?

            I only ask as AFAIK this is how they mainly deliver their FTTP offerings. Would be interested to know if they provide non-apartment block type services!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All well and good but

      re "BT or BT" - as a long standing customer of Plusnet, I'd compare them with BT as I would chalk and cheese. Yes, Plusnet is owned by BT (Group, perhaps) but staff and management are nothing like those I've come across at BT (on behalf of clients).

      I understand some "blocked sites" (because of court orders) are "intermittent" on Plusnet, depending on which route is used for traffic between Plusnet customer and the outside world, ie whether it goes via some BT "trunk" where their filtering is applied.

      I've seen a (TalkTalk) "blocked" page appear in the browser using my Post Office link, but any "filtering" against slimming sites, gambling and porn sites, is currently not activated on my connection.

  25. Squeezer

    Have been on Plusnet FTTC (80/20) for a couple of years now, rock-solid speeds (never dropped below 60Mb/s even at peak times), 24/7 UK support people that actually know what they're talking about (but I've only had to call them once), no limit/throttling that anyone is aware of, well worth £20/month (also use them for line rental).

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Plusnet is what I have for my own mother's connection, which I took out when they still listed their low usage 10GB package at 5.99 a month. It's crept up over the years to 7.99, but for the few emails she sends, that's adequate.

      However, since they're a BT-owned company, and not quite as small as they once were, they probably don't fall into the 'boutique' category anymore. But I suppose that's as good a way as any to illustrate that while these more customised outfits may be ideal for reg readers, if you just want a basic connection, sometimes using one of the big outfits may be a better choice.

  26. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    WiFi Hotspots

    I guess I've been lucky: none of the ISPs I've used has been bad enough to compare unfavourably.

    Last time around I chose BT because the agreement includes access to a large number of BT and FON WiFi hotspots. I suspect this is a feature that boutique ISPs find it hard to match. When I switched from Zen I told them this was the reason, and they said that they were working on a scheme where at some time in the future, in agreement with some hotspot provider, they'd probably be able to provide somthing....

    If anyone knows of a non-BT ISP that can provide decent roaming WiFi, I'd be glad to hear about it.

    1. ccomley

      Re: WiFi Hotspots

      I have a Fon access point, which gives me free access to ALL Fon access points including, in theory, the BT ones. But in practice more often than not my phone finds the BT FON spot then says it can't connect to it. This now happens so much of the time that the delay caused waiting for my phone to try to access the spot is significantly annoying. so I'm turning it off> Fon support people still say it should work. Well, it's pretty much their problem not mine.

      I believe you can sign up to services like "the cloud" for free provided you don't mind the odd spammy email about them or one oftheir "Partners". I think it's them I signed up to which gets me a couple of emails a month about Harvester restaurants, which I'm entirely happy to delete. :)

  27. Richard Neill

    A & A fixed IPs

    I've had good experience with A&A who provide a router configured for fixed IPs (you get 8 x IPv4). The router uses 3 of them, so you get 5 devices that are fully routable. Unfortunately, that's ALL the router can do... so once you have more than 5 devices trying to DHCP, it will fail, in a weird way depending on connection timings. It's a "feature" that the router supplied can't also do NAT.

  28. All names Taken
    Alien

    Restrict/split/hive off BT

    BT has to be removed from providing front line services direct to customers and needs to be restructured so it (BT that is) only deals with hardware networking across the nation sort of stuff (or possibly by extension to selling services to front line service providers).

    Maybe someone cocked up in the great (but useless?) attempt to privatise publicly funded services?

    All that seems to have happened is those organisations with monopolies/oligopolies merely have the same monopolies/oligopolies as before but with different names and/or lots more earnings?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Restrict/split/hive off BT

      "All that seems to have happened is those organisations with monopolies/oligopolies merely have the same monopolies/oligopolies as before but with different names and/or lots more earnings?"

      Did you read the article?

      If what you wrote was true, none of these ISPs would exist because BT would have a monopoly.

      I'll note too that competition in the UK has meant that BT are far less profitable than they used to be - telecoms services of all kinds are cheap in the UK which is why companies like EE and O2 are trying to get out - not enough money to be made.

  29. All names Taken
    Holmes

    For example ...

    ... suppose a big, really, really big company in a sector not only dominated the sector it also owned either outright or in major/minor part some other organisations working, earning and service providing in the same sector well, ... that company might be inclined to use influence (as owner or part owner) to create outcomes that wholly support itself (that is, for example, employees of executive rank in the first instance) and its wider strategies (for example: shareholders).

  30. Happy_Jack

    Contract length?

    I was curious to see that length of contract hasn't been mentioned. There are three reasons that I have been a Zen broadband customer for several years, in order of importance (to me):

    1) It's a rolling one-month contract - I can walk away any time I want. Does any other ISP offer this?

    2) I get a block of static IP addresses at no extra cost.

    3) They are very quick to prod BT into action when there's a line fault.

    The downsides are it's expensive, not particularly fast and there is a usage cap.

  31. pacmantoo

    Phone Coop LLU - pros and cons

    1TB / month limit (yup that is NOT a typo)

    Manchester based tech support that you can get through to in < 5 mins and a REAL person (and no script)

    Downside - office hours only

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