Broadband: the Small Print

By: J Tillotson

Over half of us don't bother to read the small print when signing a contract with a broadband provider. We trust in the company we are signing with, and assume that nothing will go wrong. Perhaps it won't; you may be one of the lucky ones who never fall foul of a cleverly worded clause. But for the rest of us, it's important to know what we're signing. So read the terms and conditions carefully and watch out for the following:

Setup fees
Some providers will ask you for an upfront charge for equipment and connection. This can be anywhere between ?20 and ?40. In itself that isn't too bad, but there are companies which will also ask for the first two months subscription upfront too, which bumps up the initial cost considerably.

Introductory offers
If you see a sign advertising broadband 'for only ?6.49 a month' you'd jump at it, right? Well, look before you leap. Often this low price is only for the first three months after signing, then the price can double for the rest of the term. Watch out for this, it's a common ploy used to lure customers into a contract, then charge them when they can't afford the increased payments.

Exceeding the download capacity
Unless you have paid for an unlimited download package, you may fall foul of this. A download is any data you receive from the web, be it a movie, a song or even just looking at a website. So if you browse a lot and download music too, you run the risk of exceeding your capacity. Some providers can charge as much as ?2 per GB over your limit. Avoid this by assessing your usage and going for the maximum you think you'll need, rather than the cheapest.

Payment charges
Think how you intend to pay for your service. Many providers charge you extra for not paying by direct debit. This can be anything from ?3.50 to ?5 per month.

Helpline charges
If something goes wrong - and it probably will - you'll need to call the helpline. Helpline costs can vary greatly; from 3.5p per minute up to a staggering ?1.05. Considering you'll probably be on hold for quite a while, this can work out incredibly expensive. Look for a provider who offers free helpline calls.

Late payment fees
If you are late with a payment, you could be faced not only with a charge from your bank, but some providers will disconnect your service and charge you for doing so. They may also charge you an administration fee for a late payment. If you think you may struggle making payments on time, look for a provider with lower penalty charges.

Contract termination fees
This is the one to watch out for. Some providers like you to commit to them for a minimum of 12 or 18 months, and charge you if you cancel your subscription within this time. All well and good if the service is fine and you just want a better deal, but if the service is shoddy you may resent having to pay to escape it. If you have any problems with your service, keep records of all correspondence and use it as proof if you need to contest a cancellation fee.

No minimum contract
If a provider says there is no minimum contract, this doesn't mean you can leave at any time and avoid getting charged. There will still be a cancellation fee, they just don't want to put you off with the words 'minimum contract'.

If you can find the right provider, broadband is a wonderful thing to have. Just don't fall foul of these little tricks. Shop around, examine terms and conditions carefully, and don't be afraid to question anything with the provider. Make sure you know precisely what you're signing, and you should avoid any nasty surprises a few months down the line.

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