Ethical buying guide to Broadband providers, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical buying guide to Broadband providers, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

The market is dominated by the big four, Sky, Virgin, TalkTalk and BT - all of which score poorly on ethics. 


This guide focuses on:

  • ethical and environmental ratings for 10 broadband providers
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Tax avoidance


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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

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Best Buys

as of Nov/Dec 2016


The brands in this box are eligible to apply to use the Best Buy Label on their products.

The Best Buys for home broadband are Green ISP, GreenNet and The Phone Co-op, which all scored highly. 


The Phone Co-op is offering a single £20 discount for new broadband customers. Sign up here and quote code AF076 and you will also be helping to support Ethical Consumer. 










Special Report

Ethical issues in the Electronics Industry

Last updated: December 2016





Broadband is what we call fast internet. You can choose to get your broadband through your telephone line, or superfast fibre optic cables. 

Fibre optic is broadband that runs over cables in the ground, whilst ADSL broadband runs over copper telephone wires.

For many people, home broadband (or the internet connection) will be one of the biggest monthly utility bills for which you can choose your supplier.

The market is dominated by four big providers, but for ethical consumers, there are also three companies at the top of our table which are either not-for-profit or co-operative.

90% of market share is with Virgin, BT, Sky and TalkTalk. Unfortunately, all these market leaders appear in the bottom half of the table, all having been marked down for lobbying, excessive remuneration of directors, and having no policy to reduce the toxic chemicals they used. 

Sky is the lowest scoring company on the table and is connected to The Sun newspaper, a target of the Stop Funding Hate campaign.

BT fared slightly better in some respects, as it had good environmental reporting, and, along with TalkTalk, 100% of the electricity it purchased in the UK was from renewable sources, as well as 95% of the electricity it used worldwide. However, it was the only company on the table to be marked down for supplying equipment to the military, for its contract to provide communications between an RAF base in Northamptonshire and America’s headquarters for drone attacks in Africa.[1]



Score table highlights


Virgin, BT and Sky were the only companies marked down for likely tax avoidance. 

In the middle of the table are Zen Internet and SSE. SSE is a UK Living Wage employer, and Fair Tax Mark business, and it started offering broadband in 2015. However, it does also own coal and oil power stations, although it is shifting away from coal and more towards renewable energy, alongside gas.

Despite having Fair Tax Mark status, SSE lost marks in the Anti-Social Finance column for several reasons including criticisms of inflated prices and profiteering levelled at all the ‘big six’ energy providers, from Ofgem, the government regulator for gas and electricity markets.

As a relatively small provider, Zen Internet was not in the league of the likely tax avoiders and members of free trade lobbying groups.

At the top of the table are two not-for-profit organisations, Green ISP and GreenNet, which are both Ethical Consumer Best Buy label companies. Both run their offices on renewable energy from Good Energy. All the servers used by GreenNet are also powered by renewable energy, and Green ISP offers either solar-powered hosting based in the US, or UK-based hosting which is carbon-offset by working with Treesponsibility, a community-based climate action group based in Yorkshire.

Not far behind is The Phone Co-op, a consumer co-operative owned by its members, not interested, as it says, in “making huge profits for the benefit of a few shareholders”.

All of the companies on the broadband table use BT’s infrastructure except Virgin which uses its own cables.[2] Although only Virgin is able to widely offer home broadband without a phoneline, it is not necessarily cheaper, even if you don’t really need a landline.[3] With GreenNet and Green ISP you need an existing phoneline. All other providers include the phoneline in their package. New rules from the Advertising Standards Agency mean that, from October 2016, deals advertised must include the cost of line rental, rather than listing it as a separate charge which was misleading.[2] 



Company profile


Sky’s major shareholder is 21st Century Fox, a Rupert Murdoch company. In EC159, March/April 2016, we featured an article encouraging readers to steer clear of his many brands, with their well-known right-wing position. This was in the context of refugees dying on the borders of Europe, the rise of far-right parties, and the Murdoch news empire’s bias against the scientific consensus on climate change.  

More recently, Murdoch’s Sun newspaper has been targeted by the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which began after the upsurge in media hate speech that accompanied the EU referendum. The campaign quotes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who in 2015 raised concerns about the “vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press”, which he said followed “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion.” The aim of the campaign is to “take on the divisive hate campaigns of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express by persuading advertisers to pull their support.” 


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