Ethical Broadband

We investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental records of 13 broadband providers.

We give our Best Buy recommendations and take a closer look at tax avoidance.

About 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.

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What to buy

What to look for when choosing broadband:

  • Is the provider a not-for-profit company? Look for providers with innovative business models. For example, is the provider a co-operative?

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when choosing broadband:

  • Is the company a tax avoider? Does the company score a worst Ethical Consumer rating for its likely use of tax avoidance strategies?

  • Is the company lobbying against the public interest? Does the company score badly under Political Activities?

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

The big four

The internet has become a utility much like electricity or water. And like these markets, it is dominated by a small number of big players. Nine out of ten homes with broadband internet connection in the UK are supplied by one of four companies, Virgin, BT, Sky and TalkTalk.

Furthermore, most of the other well-known broadband packages are actually supplied by these same four companies.

EE and Plusnet (which also provides John Lewis broadband) are part of BT, and NOW is part of Sky.

These big four have all been marked down for excessive remuneration of directors, being members of lobby groups (except for TalkTalk), and for Habitats & resources and Human Rights impacts, as they did not have strong enough policies around the use of conflict minerals (see our ethical shopping guide to batteries).

As well as traditional home broadband, our table also includes a few providers of mobile broadband, none of which score highly. O2, Vodafone, EE and Three all offer options either for homes that are not well-served by physical networks, or for better access to broadband while travelling. These devices, be they mobile routers, dongles, 12volt devices or SIM cards, may be preloaded with data bundles, or pay-as-you-go.

Tax avoidance

Several companies on the table received our worst rating for likely tax avoidance: BT (BT, EE, Plusnet, John Lewis broadband), Virgin, Comcast (Sky/NOW), CK Hutchison (Three).

Use of corporate courts

The use of corporate courts is a recent addition to our ratings. InvestorState Dispute Settlements (ISDS) are international courts through which corporations can sue states for loss of future profits if laws are changed. ISDSs usually meet secretly, are presided over by corporate lawyers and provide no right to appeal once a verdict has been made.

Vodafone is using ISDS to challenge a tax bill in India, and Telefonica is challenging Columbia over an order that certain telecommunication assets are reverted to State control when the concession contracts expire.

Alternative providers

Luckily, there are some better scoring alternatives. Our Best Buys are GreenNet and Green ISP, two small independent UK companies which received no negative marks on our tables, but gained positive marks for being not-for-profit, and buying from renewable energy companies. Note that GreenNet do not deal with line rental which must also be in place.

The Phone Co-op was previously also top of the table, but since becoming part of the Midcounties Co-op, which spans a range of businesses, its score has dropped.

This is due to Midcounties picking up marks such as for the sale of animal products in its supermarkets. However, the Phone Co-op is still a consumer cooperative, and we still recommend it above the four big providers.

The renewable electricity provider Ecotricity, which appeared for the first time in our recent mobile phone network guide, has also informed us that it will be providing broadband from late 2019 – watch this space.

Near the top of the table are Zen Internet and SSE. As a relatively small company, Zen Internet was not taking advantage of tax havens or free trade lobbying groups like many of the larger providers.

SSE is a UK Living Wage employer and a Fair Tax Mark business, which started offering broadband in 2015. It is primarily a power company but is planning to close its last coal-fired power station in 2020.

It does however still rely heavily on gas, though it is also expanding its renewable generation, and already produces the most renewable energy of any power company in the UK. However, SSE lost marks in the Anti-Social Finance column, despite its Fair Tax Mark status, due to paying two executive directors over £1 million in its latest accounting year.

Company profile

Sky is one of the lowest scoring companies on the table. In 2018, the Murdoch empire sold its stake in Sky to the American TV giant Comcast, which also owns Universal Studios, NBC and several digital advertising and technology firms.

Comcast is also deeply involved in data-driven marketing as well as artificial intelligence.

The change in ownership means that the famously right-wing Murdoch is no longer associated with Sky, although he does still have substantial newspaper and radio holdings – The Times, The Sun, HarperCollins, Wall St Journal, Fox News, Virgin Radio, TalkRadio, TalkSport.

Reminiscent of Verizon lobbyists joining Trump’s transition team (see our ethical shopping guide to Email), the Guardian reported that Boris Johnson plotted his first 100 days in office as UK prime minister in the house of a senior Sky television executive who had risen to the top under Murdoch. This Andrew Griffith was then appointed chief business adviser to No.10.

Want more information?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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