Beat the broadband price hikes
Eir and Virgin Media customers will see their bills rise in the coming months, writes John Cradden, but would jumping ship be a smart move?
MANY Virgin Media and Eir customers are still coming to terms with the news that their bills will be increasing.
In March, Virgin Media's broadband customers will see their bills increase by €5 a month, while Eir customers will be charged an extra €3 a month from April 7 next.
Virgin Media softened the blow of the price hike by reminding customers that their broadband is still the fastest in the country, while Eir guaranteed that individuals who signed up in the last three months will not be affected by the increase.
Customers of both companies can switch to a new provider without incurring a breakage penalty within 30 days of the price-change announcement, according to Simon Moynihan of price comparison website Bonkers.ie.
That's February 19 for Virgin Media customers, and February 21 for Eir customers.
But, would jumping ship be a smart move?
New Virgin Media customers can get 360Mb broadband, digital TV and home phone as part of a tripleplay package for €45 a month. That price rises to €95 after the first four months.
Eir and Sky offer tripleplay packages too.
Customers who want TV, a landline and broadband in their home will find the best value by bundling these services and getting them all from the one provider.
Vodafone became Ireland's fourth tripleplay provider last month, offering new customers a discounted price of €40 a month for the first six months.
Customers can also choose between six months of Netflix and six months of Setanta Sports for free as part of the deal.
All tripleplay packages come with large introductory discounts, but it's important that customers consider what they will pay over the lifetime of a contract, Mr Moynihan said.
Breakage penalties of up to €200 wait in store for some customers who try to change provider, so it's vital to pick a plan that is good value over the course of 18 months at least.
An increasing number of customers no longer want a landline or TV and would rather let their broadband take full responsibility for their calling and viewing needs, the Bonkers.ie expert said.
Pure Telecom is one of the cheapest broadband-only provider at the moment, offering 100Mb broadband for €37 a month, Mr Moynihan said.
The company's positioning seems to be working well - it gained 10,000 new customers in 2015, making it the company's best year to date, he added
Vodafone offers a similar plan for €40 a month, while Eir's broadband-only offer costs €30 for the first three months, rising to €45 thereafter.
Customers who make calls on Skype and WhatsApp and do most of their viewing on the likes of Netflix and RTÉ Player could see their bills significantly reduced by switching to a broadband-only plan.
Virgin Media also offers a broadband and home phone plan, which cost €60 a month (the first four months are discounted to €30).
It's more expensive than other providers, but the broadband is a lot faster, Mr Moynihan said. Last month, the company launched 360Mb broadband, which is the fastest in the country by some distance.
At this speed, customers can download a full HD movie in seconds and up to eight people can simultaneously stream different videos without a disruption to the service.
Considering that just five years ago, a 24Mb connection cost €79 a month, broadband value has come a long way.
Although connection speed is what catches customers' eyes, data allowance is a very important factor to consider if large bills are to be avoided, Mr Moynihan said.
Telecomes regulator ComReg recently found that 100,000 Irish people spend more than four hours watching Netflix every week.
For this level of usage, it's vital that customers have an unlimited data plan.
These are the norm now, but if a customer hasn't switched providers in the past year, they should immediately check if they're on an unlimited plan. Customers who exceed their data limit will incur a large penalty, the Bonkers.ie expert said.
Price increases, such as those recently announced by Virgin Media and Eir, are never welcomed. However, many customers have more options than ever before.
There are savings to be had bundling broadband, TV and home phone together, while households that no longer need a landline or TV can significantly cut bills by opting for a broadband-only plan.
With all the recent talk of lightning-fast 360Mb internet speeds, one might think that Ireland is blazing a trail with its broadband capability.
The major elephant in the room is the fact that much of Ireland is still without a high standard of service.
Virgin Media's broadband is only available in urban areas and Eir's fibre network, which is piggy-backed by Sky, Vodafone and Pure Telecom, is unable to reach many rural regions.
These areas must settle for internet delivered through their local telephone line, which can only generate speeds of 2Mb in some areas. Then there's those households that can't get any broadband whatsoever.
The Government's National Broadband Plan (NBP) has pledged to solve this problem by equipping 750,000 rural households and businesses with speeds of 30Mb by 2020. Six providers are gearing up to bid for the 25-year contract, which will be put to tender in the coming months, Mr Moynihan said.
The NDP has had a stuttering start, much like the unreliable internet connections it is tasked with fixing. Eir is extending its own fibre network and has declared its intention to provide super-fast speeds to 70pc of the country by 2017, and to all of the country by 2020. This creates a problem for the Government.
EU laws declare that State funds can't be used to supply broadband to areas in which commercial providers are present.
If Eir succeeds in providing a service to regions that are covered by the NBP, the existing supplier will be legally obliged to withdraw.
Amid threats of legal action, thousands of households are still waiting for an improved service.
Customers without reliable broadband can visit www.broadband.gov.ie to check if their address is covered under the plan, Mr Moynihan said.