Slow broadband? Why you can’t switch providers to speed up your Wi-Fi right now

If you’re working from home or trying to stream some much-needed escapist entertainment on Netflix or Disney+ throughout the public health crisis but are plagued with slow broadband or abysmal home Wi-Fi, you might be stuck with your speeds for the foreseeable future. That’s because Openreach, which provides the infrastructure for brands like EE, BT, TalkTalk, Zen, Sky, Giganet and more, has suspended almost all new installations that require an engineer to make a home visit.

Instead, the company says it will focus its efforts on other “essential work” to ensure that existing customers and businesses are still able to stay connected. The decicion was made with the safety of its customers and staff in mind. And there are some exceptions that could help you boost your broadband speeds if you’re struggling.

Unfortunately for those suffering from dire speeds hoping to switch to flash a contract from a different supplier, will might be unable to switch to select deals or ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as these would require an engineer to enter your home or flat to get everything up-and-running.

That said, some companies do offer self-install packages to kickstart your new broadband contract. If the ISP you’re looking to move to supports this type of set-up, you shouldn’t notice a change as there was never any need for an engineer home visit. Not only that, some customers struggling with broadband speeds, it’s worth checking with your ISP to see whether there are any improvements that can be made from outside the home. If customers are served by fibre-to-the-cabinet technology, for example, then Openreach engineers could potentially make some improvements in some cases – by adjusting the electronics housed in the green roadside cabinets that serve your property.

However, it’s clear that new social distancing rules are impacting the normal set-up process for many brands that use Openreach cables.

Thankfully, Openreach is making exceptions for “vulnerable” users, like the elderly. Those who completely lack either a broadband or telephone connection could still be served, the company has confirmed. However, these exceptions will likely be judged on a case-by-case basis. If an engineer is required to enter a home to set-up a connection, protective equipment to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus will be worn.

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Openreach says it will continue to complete planned work when it does not involve entering premises.

That means a failure in a streetside cabinet that causes a blackout – or significantly reduced speeds – for a number of houses should still be fixed as normal. it could be possible for some customers to help to install necessary home equipment themselves, Openreach has confirmed.

“A large amount of the work we do can be completed outside, and we can often fix problems without entering a customer’s property,” a spokesman for the company told the BBC. “So, we’re advising our engineers not to complete any work inside a property unless it would leave a vulnerable customer with no form of connection, and it’s not possible to provide one by any other means.”

As you’d expect, priority will be given to key infrastructures such as the NHS, pharmacies as well as food retailers and distributors. Engineers for telecom firms have been classified as “key workers” by the Government, which means they’re allowed to continue to go to work. Children of key workers are also allowed to remain in school during normal hours to allow parents to continue to work.

As it stands, Virgin Media – which does not use Openreach’s fibre network and instead uses its own cable infrastructure – says its technicians will still make home visits to help existing customers and install new connections for customers. However, those who are self-isolating or exhibiting flu-like symptoms will have to reschedule the appointment for a fortnight later, the company has added.

Provided this service continues, BT, Sky, EE or TalkTalk customers who do not have enough bandwidth to work from home or stream the content they’d like during the evenings at home, will be able switch to Virgin Media. But Virgin Media customers unsatisfied with their experience might not be able to switch to one of the Openreach brands – depending on whether they offer the self-install bundles.

In order to ease some of the pressure on the broadband infrastructure across the UK during the public health crisis, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ have all pledged to drop the quality of streaming video to try to keep everyone connected during the lockdown measures. Sony has also limited download speeds for game downloads on PS3 and PS4.

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