Most of us use the Internet every day, but when was the last time you thought about broadband? These days, it's the third utility after energy and water, but as long as there's no major problems with it you probably don't worry about it too much.
This level of apathy can't be a good thing when a chunk of your hard-earned cash is leaving your bank account by direct debit each month - especially at a time when you may have had to tighten the purse strings. So here are some tips to help you make sure you're getting the best broadband you can, at the best possible price:
1. Compare broadband
As with insurance and energy, there's a good chance you could be paying less for broadband. So, there's never a bad time to compare broadband deals, and if you've been with the same provider for years it's a must. Always use a broadband comparison site given the thumbs up by regulator Ofcom, like broadbandchoices, to make sure the results you get are always clear and impartial.
2. Check your contract
We're all guilty of signing things without reading the small print, but sometimes it can be a costly mistake. Leaf through the terms and conditions before you sign your broadband contract, and ask your provider about anything you're unsure of. Take note of when the contract expires, too - so you know when you'll be free to shop around for a new deal.
3. Pick the right provider
Not all broadband providers are the same, and there's a lot to be said for choosing the provider who best delivers what you need from your broadband - rather than just going for whoever's cheapest. Virgin Media or BT fibre optic can give you unrivalled speeds and unlimited usage, but, if you're more concerned with the customer service you'll get than having the flashiest package, a provider like Plusnet might be a better fit.
4. Learn the lingo
Research has shown almost half of the UK's broadband users don't understand the words used by providers when advertising deals. Know the difference between megabits and megabytes? Not sure how upload and download speeds differ? It's worth doing your homework with an online jargon buster, as it's easier to make an informed decision when you've got a grip on the lingo.
5. Get what you need
There's no point in paying extra for superfast, unlimited broadband if a much cheaper package with a usage limit is sufficient for how you use the Internet. Similarly, it's pointless plumping for the cheapest option if you're not going to get what you need. Think about your household - how many people and devices are connecting all at once and how much streaming and downloading do you do? Then go for a broadband package that supports your online activity.
Whenever you compare broadband, you'll usually have the option of bundling your Internet service with home phone calls and possibly a TV subscription. It's almost always cheaper to take all three from a single provider instead of getting them separately. As well as saving you money, it's more convenient to have just the one bill and direct debit to keep track of.
7. Don't forget line rental
Even if you don't use your home phone to make calls, you still need a landline to get broadband. The only exception is Virgin Media, which can offer broadband without a phone line as it operates independently of the national telephone network. Don't overlook the cost of line rental as prices vary a lot between providers and it usually accounts for more than half of your bill.
8. Think about service
Should you ever run into technical difficulties, or simply need advice about upgrading your broadband or using certain features, it's nice to be able to pick up the phone and hear a friendly, helpful voice on the other end. Some providers, like Plusnet, are well known for having better customer service than others, so it's another thing for you to think about.
9. Be determined
If you phone your provider to tell them you want to switch, they'll probably try to convince you to stay. They might offer a discount, a new router or a free upgrade - but they'll also demand you sign a new 12 or 18-month contract. If you've made up your mind - perhaps your broadband was too slow, or the customer service was rubbish - then be strong and stick to your guns. Don't rush into a decision either way, and think about the deals you'll be missing out on if you stick. And bear in mind that providers often save their best offers and discounts for new customers only.
The easiest way to get the best broadband available is to compare the latest deals and pick the provider and package that meet your household's needs. As soon as your minimum contract term expires it's time to start looking to see if you could get a better deal by switching. These days it's a really straightforward process, and you shouldn't have to go without broadband or phone for more than a couple of hours in most cases.