Things that Piss Me Off 4: Shitty Broadband Comparison Sites

I’ve come across this before and complained (to no avail, but the vent was worth it) but today I discovered that Ofcom has an accreditation scheme for broadband sites. This sounded promising so I checked out the two sites that I was advised had received said accreditation: SimplifyDigital.co.uk and BroadbandChoices.co.uk.

Long-time readers (pretending there are any) will know that misleading advertising broadband is a major pet peeve of mine. Not misselling speeds, because there’s no reliable way an ISP can accurately predict what speed your line will take (if you don’t already have broadband).  This mis-selling is much worse; I’m talking about the companies who lie in their headline speeds by advertising broadband “from £4.99 a monthfor the first three months, £14.99 thereafter, 12 month contract applies, not inclusive of compulsory phone-line rental.

Of course companies will continue to advertise lies like this as long as they get away with it, even the once-honest Plus net (who I do otherwise like) have now jumped on the bandwagon claiming they need to compete with scum like Tiscali and BT. Until someone takes them up on it they’ll continue lying and cheating customers with scant regard for concepts like honesty and integrity, but surely we can expect more of the broadband comparison sites who are, after all, fighting for a fair deal for the consumer, right?

Wrong. It seems the comparison sites get all caught up in the headline figures and thus actively encourage the misleading advertising that broadband companies seem so keen on.

Broadband Choices are easily the better of the two – their default display is sorted by “first year cost” (which would also include activation/connection charges), but they still display the monthly charge as the introductory offer figure.  In fact, they don’t display the actual monthly charge at all.

Broadband  Choices - best of a bad bunch [click to view full screen]

SimplifyDigital, on the other hand, is a complete joke. Not only do they default their display to sort by the “monthly” cost (of the first month) they don’t even give you the option to change that. Worse still, they don’t display a first-year-cost at all. It’s got me so annoyed that had I the time I’d give serious consideration to starting my own broadband comparison site that did a real comparison. They also seem to only list the big names (who presumably pay big commissions!), ignoring smaller providers like Plus Net (sorry to sound like a broken record, but they really are quite good).

An example query at Simplify Digital reveals 5 providers who meet “1 of 2” of my very loose criteria. As it only sorts results by price, the cheapest should be at the top, however the ordering we actually get is:

Simplify Digital Results are bloody awful

  1. Tiscali: £4.49 × 3 + £12.99 × 9
    Actual first-year price: £130.38
    (inc. line rental = £256.38)
  2. BT: £7.95 × 3 + £15.99 × 9
    Actual first-year price: £167.76
    (inc. line rental = £293.76)
  3. AOL: £9.99 × 3 + £19.99 × 9
    Actual first-year price: £209.88
    (inc. line rental = £335.88)
  4. Orange: £10 × 3 + £20× 9
    Actual first-year price: £210
    (inc. line rental = £336)
  5. TalkTalk: £15.49 (inc. line rental) × 12
    Actual first-year price: £185.88

It looks ok at first glance but you’ll quickly notice that if you look at the whole year instead of the first month things are not what they seem.  Include line rental and TalkTalk is the cheapest, not the most expensive. Even excluding line rental TalkTalk should leap ahead of AOL and Orange into 3rd.  What’s the point in a comparison site that only lets you rank results by price and doesn’t even do that right?  (By the way, I’d personally steer clear of all 5 of those companies, but that’s just my bad experience with Tiscali coupled with scare stories about the rest).

So there you have it: broadband comparison sites that instead of siding with consumers actually encourage introductory offers and misleading headline figures – practices designed to confuse consumers and make comparisons more difficult. Thanks guys.

Update: I’ve just had a response to an email I sent to SimplifyDigital.

Thank you very much for your feedback…

Regarding our comparison site, the redesign we’re working on at the moment will actually change the results table ranking, to being ranked by first year cost rather than introductory offer cost.

Yay!

Author: nerd.

An experienced IT professional, I used to run a number of small websites and spend a lot of time tinkering with my sites or my PC - back when I had free time.

6 thoughts on “Things that Piss Me Off 4: Shitty Broadband Comparison Sites”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Constructive feedback indeed, thanks for that (although you’ve miscredited us as ‘Broadband Buyer’ above the best buy table instead of ‘Broadband Choices’. No big deal though).

    Poor and misleading broadband comparison sites vex me also; if you would like to engage in some dialogue as to how ours could potentially be improved, i’d be happy to listen.

    All the best,

    Dan Drage – Editor, Broadband Choices

  2. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for popping by. I’ve fixed the error you mentioned.

    Re potential improvements: my main gripe is as stated above. I really hate the “£x.99 a month” type claims when really there’s a minimum term commitment that runs for several times the length of the offer period, so it isn’t really £x.99 a month at all, but usually closer to three or four times that. ISPs making those claims are bad but a “consumer” broadband site that supports them in doing that is unforgivable.

    Your “Monthly charge” column quotes the introductory offer price (and admittedly tells users how long this offer is) but doesn’t indicate the actual monthly price. I don’t think you should even quote the offer price at all. If you must, quote both – but then the offer price should be the footnote.

    Also, if you’re looking on general tips for improvement – a couple of “Nice to haves”:

    1) Simple options beneath the Post Code/Phone Number fields: Minimum Usage and Minimum Speed. I personally don’t need “superfast” 8Mbps or whatever, 2 would do if it was any way accurate. I’d also need a decent amount of usage, say 30GB.

    which brings me to:

    2) You don’t have any way to allow for Plus.Net who have xGB a month limits but allow unlimited usage overnight. I would totally ignore Plus.Net if I was basing my decision solely on your table, but I think they’re actually the best match for me. I realise this is a complicated once-off scenario, so I don’t blame you for it as such. Maybe you could have a note beside the headline figure, like you do for the “For 3 months” in the monthly charge? This could also be used to include any specific limits mentioned in “Fair Use Policies” of “Unlimited” usage deals.

    Long term maybe customer ratings could feature?

    HTH,
    Steve

  3. Hi Steve,

    I was reading your rant and had to laugh at the ad’s that Google had placed on your site (which are obviously picked based on the content of the site). Incase they change regularily and you get different ones, here they are, very amusing given your topic.

    *
    Tiscali Broadband £4.49
    Unlimited Broadband for just £4.49 With Free UK & International Calls!
    http://www.tiscali.co.uk
    *
    Top10 Broadband in the UK
    Broadband Comparison. Compare Broadband From £4.50. Save £200+
    http://www.Top10-Broadband.co.uk
    *
    Cheap Broadband from BT
    Get BT Total Broadband From £4.95 a Month. Up to 8mb Download Speeds!
    http://www.bt.com/broadband
    *
    Virgin Media™ Broadband
    Get unlimited downloads + free security. Only £9 p/m for 12 mths!
    http://www.VirginMedia.com/B

  4. lol thanks Simon. I suppose if I’d any morals I’d put a block on Tiscali and BT from advertising on my site (on the other hand if anyone’s stupid enough to click an ad like that from a page like this, they deserve all they get!!)

  5. I am a Tiscali customer and have been for searevl years.Up until the end of last year I just used them for broadband and never really had any problems. However, I then switched to Tiscali TV, Broadband and Phone (package for a330 per month).The switchover was a nightmare from beginning to end. We had the TV for 1 week and then it went off. Broadband then went off and trying to solve the problem was horrific. No-one at Tiscali seemed to know what they were doing. None of the staff were particularly helpful and passed us from pillar to post on a daily basis. Their explanations were pathetic and at one point they denied all knowledge of us being customers in the first place. One member of staff refused to believe that I was a Tiscali TV customer and even when I said I was looking at the box on top of my TV, she continued to call me a liar!The phone calls we made about this problem were endless, not to mention the cost.Eventually an engineer came out (4 days late!) and phoned Tiscali from his mobile they explained that we were on diagnostic profile and whilst the engineer was on the phone (5 min call), an operator from Tiscali switched a button’ and we were given the proper service.In all, this nightmare lasted 4 weeks and not only did my stress levels reach the point of no return, my business was affected.We didn’t pay any bill until it was resolved but that was beside the point. Tiscali customer service has a lot to be desired!VA:F [1.9.22_1171](from 0 votes)

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