Take control and cut costs on TV and broadband

Prices for UPC and Sky are heading north, fast: many people will shell out more than €1,000 this year for TV, broadband and landlines. But there are cheaper options

The vaguely good news is that, as the price increases from UPC and Sky amount to a significant change in the terms of their contracts, customers can discontinue services and find alternatives at any point between now and the beginning of February without a financial penalty. Photograph: Thinkstock

The vaguely good news is that, as the price increases from UPC and Sky amount to a significant change in the terms of their contracts, customers can discontinue services and find alternatives at any point between now and the beginning of February without a financial penalty. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

UPC barely waited until the new year’s bubbles had gone flat before contacting its customers to tell them they would have to pay as much as €100 more in 2015 for the services it provides.

While a price hike of such magnitude would hardly be welcomed by anyone except those imposing it, the disgruntlement was magnified for many because it was the third time UPC had hit customers with significant price increases in less than two years. Many of its more than 600,000 customers are now paying almost a third more for their TV, broadband and phone lines than they were in 2013.

When asked by Pricewatch why it was increasing prices by almost 50 times the rate of general inflation, UPC had its answers ready to go – although, in our view at any rate, they were vague and unconvincing.

It claims the hikes are needed to allow it to “invest in giving our customers more entertainment than ever before and providing unbeatable superfast broadband services”. A spokeswoman blamed “increased operational costs and revised content and copyright charges from channel and content providers”.

When it comes to price increases, the other main player in the market, Sky, has not been found wanting either. It has added €12 to the annual cost of its most basic TV package, while its unlimited fibre broadband offering will now cost €50 a month, compared with €40 for its DSL broadband product.

And then there is Eircom. Last week it announced that the monthly charge for TV, phone and broadband customers was going up by €2-€8 a month, adding up to €96 a year to customers’ annual bills.

The cheapest TV package with UPC is €30 a month, while Sky works out marginally cheaper at €29 per month or €348 a year. Add broadband and a phone line, and many people will shell out more than €1,000 over the next 12 months.

That is a lot of money. However, the vaguely good news is that, as the price increases from both leading providers amount to a significant change in the terms of their contracts, customers can discontinue services and find alternatives at any point between now and the beginning of February without a financial penalty.

Time is of the essence, however, and if you have not acted within 30 days of getting notice of the price hikes, you will be locked in until the end of your contract.

 

Saorview and other options

So what are the other options, and how much could you save? And how would you like it if we could knock €500 off your annual bill every year? If you plan on watching telly for the next 40 years, that could amount to savings of €20,000.

When it comes to cheaper television the first, and most obvious, option is Saorview. It came into its own in a blaze of publicity during the great analogue switch-off of 2012, but while the flame of attention dimmed once the analogue signal died, the Saorview service continues to grow. It is now available in more than 600,000 Irish homes and is the second largest TV platform in Ireland.

It is not, however, as the name might suggest, actually free, at least at the outset. A set-top box costs between €60 and €100, and an aerial might have to be installed at a cost of about €200. Once that is done, however, you won’t have to pay another cent for your television – at least for the Irish channels. The most basic boxes willl not give you access to British stations.

If that limitation is a deal breaker – and let’s face it, it would be for most people – you can get a combi-box, which will get you the Irish channels plus all manner of free-to-air satellite services, including all the main British terrestrial channels.

The better combi-boxes have DVR facilities, although these are limited, and you will need to plug in some additional storage in order to keep your recordings. An alternative to the Saorview combi-box is a freesat box. Many of these come with in-built storage but they don’t have Saorview, so if you want the best of both worlds you will probably need two boxes plus external storage.

This might sound like a hassle but the potential savings are significant. For a one-off payment of €299, companies such as Satellite.ie will install a system including a satellite dish and receiver to allow you to watch stations including all the BBC channels, ITV, a range of children’s channels, multiple news channels, including Sky News and CNN, and a host of others. The Irish digital free-to-air channels also come in via a small aerial in the box.

Add an online streaming service such as Netflix – €7.99 a month – and you will have pretty much everything you could want from the telly, except Sky Sports. Other companies operating in the freeview space include Billfreetv.ie and Freetoair.ie. Like Satellite.ie, they will set you up with all the equipment for less than €300.

While free options exist for television, that’s not the case for broadband. If you want to discontinue your television service with UPC but hang on to its broadband – which is, by any measure, excellent – there are options, although they are limited.

 

Use comparison websites

Shopping around can be complicated – particularly if you rely on the individual companies’ websites, which try too hard to upsell and get you to part with more cash. An alternative is to use price comparison websites such as Bonkers.ie or switcher.ie.

Using such sites, it is easy to see what kind of broadband deals are available. UPC will offer unlimited broadband with speeds of up to 240MPS for €25 a month to new customers for the first four months, after which the price increases to €45.

It is by some measure the fastest broadband on the market. It also includes landline calls to local numbers and 400 minutes of calls to 22 overseas countries a month. If you don’t have a landline, then all the free minutes the company is offering are useless. It does not, however, offer a broadband-only deal in isolation. If you don’t use a landline, a better option might be its 60MB bundle. It covers landline rental but no calls and costs just €15 a month for the first four months, after which the price jumps to €35 a month.

Vodafone’s Essentials offers off-peak calls to landlines, up to 100MB of broadband and costs €45 a month. If a user wants to get just broadband then the options diminish, but its Simply Broadband deal, at €35 a month, is the pick of the bunch.

We recognise that all this talk of high speed broadband must be infuriating for almost one million homes and businesses that can only dream of such a thing. The Department of Communications has identified more than 1,000 towns and villages throughout Ireland that need help accessing broadband and has committed to spending €500 million on a fibre-powered infrastructure to bring them into the digital age for the first time. Such a development can’t come too soon.

 

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