Five questions answered on Ofcom’s broadband changes

Is it really going to change things that much?

Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK, Ofcom, has proposed new measures that they say will improve broadband deals for consumers. We answer five questions about the proposal.

What are the main proposals Ofcom is making?

In order to promote competition among providers and pass on savings to the customer, the regulatory body is proposing to cut the costs paid by broadband providers when switching customers, as well as shortening the minimum length of contracts.

It wants to cut the cost of switching to between £10 and £15, as well as reducing the minimum contract length to one month.

Currently, providers who use BT's superfast Openreach network must pay BT £50 if they want to switch a customer on to their service.

What has prompted these proposals?

In a recent report, Ofcom stated that upgrading from regular broadband connections to superfast – which is delivered through fibre-optic cables – was cheaper and is becoming increasingly popular. However, it said that switching from one user to another is expensive.

What has BT said about Ofcom’s proposals?

In a statement BT, which offers the BT superfast Openreach network, said it welcomed the plan: "We are pleased that Ofcom is maintaining pricing freedom for Openreach's fibre products.

"BT has already accepted a long payback period for its fibre deployment and its wholesale fibre prices - which are amongst the lowest in Europe - reflect this".

What do the experts say?

Marie-Louise Abretti broadband expert at uSwitch.com, speaking to the BBC said: "Targeting the market at wholesale level - offering monetary savings to broadband providers that are switching people - means it'll be up to ISPs [internet service providers] to make sure that cost savings are passed on to their customers.

"And with providers potentially saving up to £40 per customer, per switch, Ofcom must ensure this happens. We'd hope this move will see often hefty set-up fees scrapped, or at least reduced."

How many people in the UK currently use superfast broadband?

Only around 13 per cent of the UK has superfast broadband connection.

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt