What happens if my internet provider goes bust?

Consumer rights are limited if your broadband provider ceases trading, but with preparation you should be able to stay connected.

Wednesday, 29 June, 2022

Over recent years, the UK’s broadband market has been disrupted and expanded by the emergence of local full-fibre broadband firms.

From Grain in Cumbria to County Broadband in East Anglia, these alternative full fibre broadband ISP networks have become known as AltNets.

They provide an alternative not just to full fibre rivals like Virgin Media, but also to the numerous ISPs using Openreach infrastructure – Sky, Plusnet, TalkTalk and others.

Unfortunately, many of these AltNet ISPs have been investing heavily in infrastructure just as the wheels threaten to come off the UK economy.

Industry regulator Ofcom is increasingly concerned that a wave of bankruptcies could be triggered by a combination of spiralling inflation and dwindling household budgets.

And while it’s certainly true that AltNets are at higher risk of failure due to their need to invest in proprietary networks, even Openreach-dependent ISPs may begin to struggle.

From a consumer perspective, this poses the unwelcome risk that your ISP ceases trading, leaving you without an internet connection.

What should you do if this happens?

Is there any state intervention if an ISP ceases trading?

If your gas or electricity provider goes bust, energy industry watchdog Ofgem will appoint a new supplier to ensure continuity of service.

Ofcom doesn’t currently have the same power over internet provision, but it’s reported to be developing contingency plans along similar lines.

Industry observers expect BT to be appointed as a supplier of last resort, since it’s the former telecommunications monopoly holder and has the most comprehensive coverage and resources.

For now, though, it’s every consumer for themselves.

Will I get any warning?

It’s unlikely that a failing business would write to its customers to warn them of its imminent demise.

You’re more likely to receive early warning through the media – many Post Office Broadband customers learned their ISP was being taken over in this way.

Historically, failing (or failed) ISPs have swiftly been sold as going concerns, but it’s not clear whether the proprietary cable networks of AltNets would be as saleable.

In many households, the first indication that an ISP has ceased trading would come when their broadband routers stop working and the internet is suddenly unavailable.

What should I do?

If you wake up one morning in an internet-less home, we’d recommend the following course of action.

Firstly, attempt to contact your ISP to determine if this loss of connectivity is due to a temporary outage or a more serious issue.

If the phones ring out and live chat is unavailable, this suggests you’re dealing with more than a temporary local outage.

Run an internet search for the company name on your smartphone, choosing the News tab on either Google or Bing. Corporate collapses are almost always reported on.

If your porvider’s name is appearing in articles alongside words like “insolvency” or “administration”, you may have lost service permanently.

Contact your bank and cancel any future direct debit or standing order payments, ensuring you’re not continuing to pay a failed business for a service you’re no longer receiving.

Next, use your phone’s mobile data to search BroadbandDeals.co.uk for ISPs offering coverage in your postcode.

There will be a temporary delay while a new account is set up and hardware is dispatched – ISPs won’t supply connectivity through a failed competitor’s broadband router.

In the meantime, we’ve previously outlined ways to stay online in the event of a broadband outage.

Home broadband may not have the same legal protections as energy provision, but to many people, it’s just as important.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!