Sneaky broadband contracts outlawed

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Most of us have a love/hate relationship with our broadband provider. We love being able to use broadband, but we hate just about everything else. From the dodgy service to the premium rate helplines and the contracts which are designed to force us to stay with a provider who is driving us round the bend.

Now, at least one of our bugbears is set to come to an end, as Ofcom has outlawed dodgy contracts.

No renewal
Ofcom has ruled that automatically renewable contracts should be banned from the end of December. At the moment they kick in when your minimum contract period comes to an end. Unless you contact your provider to opt out, they automatically roll over, and tie you in for another extended period. This often means that another year is added to your contract overnight without them ever having to contact you.

The rip off is rife within the broadband industry, and a host of providers are using them. The most high profile is BT, but they are also used by other residential providers including Adept Telecom, Axis Telecom, Eze Talk and iTalk. As a result of these contracts, Ofcom estimates that 15% of all broadband users are tied into contracts they never actually signed up to.

Michael Phillips, from price comparison website BroadbandChoices, adds that to add insult to injury, the automatic renewals are often more expensive than newer contracts.

But for most people, being stuck with their provider is the real issue. Many of us never simply log on at the touch of a button. It has become a 60 minute palaver involving restarting the broadband, plugging and unplugging it, and spending ages on the phone to a support person who seems to be speaking in a strange techno-babble. We are holding our breath for the contract to end so we can go elsewhere, and to suddenly find ourselves trapped in for another year is heartbreaking.

What this means
Ernest Doku, technology expert at price comparison site uSwitch.com said: "Hopefully now the emphasis will be on providing the best service and support possible, so that consumers actively choose to stay with providers, rather than stay with them by default."

This may be wishful thinking. After-all they can still legally tie you in for an extended period when you first sign up, and then provide shoddy service and support until your contract runs out.

At least it means we have one chance a year to get a provider we like to deal with - which means we stand a reasonable chance of being happy within the next five years. Put like that it doesn't sound like a resounding victory for the consumer does it?

And, of course, this ruling doesn't kick in for months, so it's essential to check your contract now to see whether it expires before the end of the year, and whether you need to cancel it and move before the deadline.

But what do you think? Am I being too cynical? Let us know in the comments.
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