Toothless governments are always trying to pass the buck of responsibility onto the market, and as consumers we are constantly being told about the importance of shopping around for a good tariff, and not simply settling for a company with a poor service record.
The reality, of course, is altogether difficult: switching providers is often a headache - particularly when it comes to your broadband package (and even more so when you've had your fingers burned before). Here's a quick rundown on what you need to know.
BT vs the rest
The broadband market in the UK has been - and probably always will be - a safe monopoly for BT. In fact, most other companies have long had to pay the telecoms giant for the privelege of using its phone lines network, and although Ofcom capped the amount they can charge (which, in theory, should have had a knock-on effect on our bills), the competition has, historically, been far from healthy.
The good news is that regulators have demanded Openreach become its own entity (although to what extent it is genuinely separate from its de facto parent remains to be seen), with the idea being to drive up service quality through the gradual introduction of genuine alternatives to BT.
While all this is being sorted out, you're kind of limited in what you can do to shop around - but there are options.
Virgin has long been known as the UK's second biggest broadband provider (behind BT, of course), and that's essentially because they are one of few which don't use their phone line (which means you don't have to purchase a calls package at all, technically). £30 a month - with a start up cost of £15; lower than most - isn't too bad, but the speed of the connection is often a source of complaint for customers.
Sky's package is relatively cheap at £20 a month, but its connection speeds of 17MB are nowhere near the level of BT. They are, at least upfront with their pricing - line rental is included in the figure they quote.
The problem with EE is that they favour 18 month contracts, which really isn't ideal for a lot of people's lifestyles (and, in truth, neither is the standard 12).
Plusnet are a relatively low key player in the broadband game, but that does mean they offer plenty of sign up incentives. They're worth a look for that alone.
Need to knows
At a time when many people are renting, remember that your choice of provider could essentially be decided before you've even moved in. If you don't have a Virgin line set up then you could be stuck with BT or one of its disciples. Technically, you can get a Virgin installation hooked up, but you'll need the landlord's permission.
Another thing to bear in mind is that, if you've committed to a 12 month contract you will be asked to stump up the full amount of however much is left on the deal if you leave early. That, unfortunately, is one thing regulators still won't address properly.