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The latest changes on the TalkTalk broadband products are now in our package listing for the provider and the big change has been a reduced price for the ADSL2+ service and no setup fee.
TalkTalk Totally Unlimited ADSL2+ is now available on a 12 month contract for £20 per month, and the £9 setup is being waived until the end of the offer on 29th June 2017, making switching provider cheaper than usual. The previous free fibre setup offer continues but the entry level VDSL2 (fibre) service has increased from the previous £27/m offer to £28.50/m, the faster up to 76 Mbps variant remains the same at £32/m (based on 18 month contract option). The TV and TV Plus products reflect the same ups and downs in the broadband pricing, i.e. the setup fee is now just £25 to pay for the TV set-top box.
TalkTalk contracts are fixed price for the broadband and line rental during the minimum contract term and for those seeking some long term price stability they offer three contract length options 12, 18 or 24 months. Remember that ancillary charges such as boosts and calls are not guaranteed to stay the same price and we presume the protection against price rises also means you won't benefit if the wholesale pricing drops significantly - this is potentially the case for the fibre services in a 12 to 15 month time frame, but will depend on Ofcom and what Openreach subsequently does since there is a proposal to drop the price of the 40/10 product that would make it cheaper than the 40/2 service that TalkTalk use.
The Universal Service Obligation which has not made its passage onto the Law books yet has had another airing in the House of Commons today with the debate covering amendments requested by the House of Lords a few weeks ago.
The debate on the USO was part of the wider Digital Economy Bill and while ten days ago one would have being moaning about the length of time the bill is taking to make it onto the statute books with a General Election now just weeks away the Digital Economy Bill is one of those rushing their way through before Parliament ceases. If the Bill does make it onto the statute law books if there is a new Party in charge they may want to revisit the bill or if the Conservatives are returned with a new mandate there may be changes they wish to make to elements of the bill since if they have a larger majority getting controversial elements passed becomes easier.
"Lords amendment 1 challenges the Government to be more ambitious on universal digital connectivity. The universal service obligation forms part of our plan to deliver better connectivity, helping to ensure that everyone gets decent broadband and no one is left behind. However, we have serious concerns about whether the amendment is deliverable. As drafted, it is counterproductive to the implementation of a USO, because of the risk of legal challenge and the delay that that would cause. We are legislating for the USO under the EU telecoms legislative framework, under which a USO is intended to ensure a baseline of services where a substantial majority has taken up the service but the market has not delivered, and where users are at risk of social exclusion.
According to Ofcom’s latest data, in 2016, take-up of ultrafast broadband with a download speed of 300 megabits per second and higher was less than 0.1%, so we are nowhere near being able to demonstrate that the majority of the population have access to full fibre with a download speed of 2 gigabits per second. We therefore cannot accept Lords amendment 1, and we are not in a position of a substantial majority having taken up superfast broadband. I do, however, support the ambition of better, faster, more reliable broadband, so the Government propose an amendment in lieu that requires any broadband USO to set a download speed of at least 10 megabits per second, and requires the Government to direct Ofcom to review the minimum download speed in the broadband USO once superfast take-up is 75%. That gives the assurance that any USO speed will be reconsidered once a substantial majority of subscribers are on superfast."Matt Hancock Minister of State for Digital and Culture at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as recorded by Hansard on 26th April 2017
The 2 Gbps USO requirement was always an amendment too far, and perhaps was more a case of those lobbying Lords and wanting the USO to mandate that the UK utilise full fibre (FTTP) and no other technology in delivering the USO. So to see Matt Hancock reject the 2 Gbps is no surprise. The debate about how the escalator will work and a 30 Mbps baseline for the initial USO has been rejected, with the original 10 Mbps holding. The amendments the Government is proposing to insert instead are:
Page 1, line 12, at end insert 2, but may not do so unless—
Page 2, line 23, at end insert— “72B Broadband download speeds: duty to give direction under section 72A
- (a) it specifies the minimum download speed that must be provided by those connections and services, and
- (b) the speed so specified is at least 10 megabits per second."
- The Secretary of State must give OFCOM a direction under section 72A if—
- (a) the universal service order specifies a minimum download speed for broadband connections and services and the speed so specified is less than 30 megabits per second, and
- (b) it appears to the Secretary of State, on the basis of information published by OFCOM, that broadband connections or services that provide a minimum download speed of at least 30 megabits per second are subscribed to for use in at least 75% of premises in the United Kingdom.
- The direction—
- (a) must require OFCOM to review and report to the Secretary of State on whether it would be appropriate for the universal service order to specify a higher minimum download speed, and
- (b) may also require OFCOM to review and report to the Secretary of State on any other matter falling within section 72A(1).”Amendments Digital Economy Bill on USO proposed by Government
So if the USO does turn out to be a 10 Mbps minimum with an escalation to 30 Mbps once superfast take-up reaches 75% or higher when will that be? Well superfast take-up at end of 2015 was reported at 50% by Ofcom and 54% at the end of 2016, which is inline with the relevant figures from providers financial reports, and that means an estimate of 59% based on observations from March 2017 speed test results is within the ballpark. If (and it is a big if) demand for superfast continues to grow at the same pace as indicated by the last full quarters financial results we are looking at a growth of 2.4 million premises or around 8 percent points a year. Therefore the trigger may fire in 2021, but 2022 looks more likely. Of course take-up may level off, or it might increase, forecasting demand is a difficult business, changes such as Ofcom slashing the price of the GEA-FTTC 40/10 service might boost demand, but that change is not certain and the full saving may not make it to the retail market.
Members of Parliament did respond to Matt Hancock questioning the level of ambition especially when there is a greater ambition to deliver full fibre, but as we mentioned back in 2016 there was always a risk with all the talk of full fibre that until one actually sees delivery it is all just political rhetoric. Our earlier paragraph on take-up hopefully does illustrate once MP who may have sourced some wrong figures in their response.
"Let us look at what will happen with the Government’s offer here and at the trigger mechanism of a 75% subscription rate. In 2016, only 31% of people were getting 30 megabits; in 2015, it was only 27%. How long is a constituent in England, Wales or Northern Ireland going to have to wait before the USO catches up and gets to 75%? The USO could be either a really ambitious measure to close the digital divide or simply a safety net, and it is quite clearly the latter, which is fine—as long as it is clearly articulated as such—because other things can be done."Extract of Calum Kerr (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (SNP) talking in Digital Economy Debate
Correction 10am 27th April Due to a human error and missing the section title in the Ofcom Connected Nation Report the author was reading take-up of over 10 Mbps broadband, rather than 30 Mbps and higher, we apologise for any confusion. Ofcom Connected Nation report does state 31% for 2016 and 27% for 2015. Which if correct and take-up remains linear at 4 percentage points per year would mean 75% reached in 2028! 31% take-up at the end of 2016 seems low, when there were 7.2 Openreach GEA live services and 4.8 million Virgin Media cable and another probably 300,000 with other superfast (mostly ultrafast too) services. Applying a 5% allowance on the GEA numbers to remove those not likely to be superfast you get a total of 11.9 million superfast premises, which is 42% of 28 million UK premises, or you could say 44% of the 92% of UK premises currently with access to a superfast broadband option. Another way of expressing the figure is that Ofcom reports broadband take-up is running at 78% of UK premises, which is around 22 million and thus superfast take-up is running at 54% (this last figure is the closest to what we observe in terms of take-up of superfast services in our speed test round-ups). Ofcom elsewhere in the Connected Nations 2016 report (page 5) does indicate that its figure for the number of superfast was 9 million, which is substantially different to the 12 million indicated by financial reports by the operators at the end of 2016, what we don't know exactly is what date the nine million applies to. Nine million take-up and the 31% figure gives a UK premises total of 29 million and thus if no changes to the way Ofcom reports take-up means effectively everyone who has broadband now would have to upgrade to superfast broadband, and given the performance issues around VDSL2 unless broadband take-up increases significantly 75% superfast take-up is almost impossible.
The bit that no-one wants to talk about is who and what technology will actually deliver the Universal Service Obligation, and at what price point for delivery will who ever is charged with the USO be able to opt out of using a gold standard service but deliver it using just satellite broadband. Long Reach VDSL is touted as a solution and if ADSL/ADSL2+ frequencies can be recovered with additional infill cabinets this is a possibility, but that seems to presume Openreach taking the USO mantle and they might be very busy concentrating on duct and pole access for millions of premises getting full fibre rolled out to them by numerous other operators once we are into 2019 and onwards.
The inevitability of price rises in the broadband arena strike again as Plusnet is the latest provider to inform customers of forthcoming changes, along with a new set of ADSL2+ and VDSL2 offers.
The headline changes are:
There is the small added benefit of a new free Plusnet Call Protect feature, which is designed to intercept nuisance calls and direct it to junk voicemail. This may help to reduce the number of annoying 'sales' calls.
With the notification of the price rises, once individuals receive their notification of an impact upon them they have 30 days to initiate a move to another provider, for customers signing up to the latest offers that have just been announced as the price rises are detailed on the sales pages you are considered to have signed up in full knowledge that pricing will change on 29th June 2017.
The latest broadband offers for new customers are:
For those existing customers annoyed by the price rises and looking to move elsewhere it is important to make sure that you factor in the setup costs when searching for a new broadband home, especially since the 'fibre' services almost all have a setup fee and with this being over £50 in some cases it would take several years to make up for the £1/m line rental price increase, plus most providers will likely increase their line rental in the next 12 months even they have not already recently done so.
The coverage of Fibre to the Premise broadband in the UK may only just be reaching 2.5% of premises, but every new bit of roll-out does help.
While the news today from GTC is not announcing new coverage areas adding a fifth broadband provider who sells broadband over its full fibre network (GPON) is an important thing in terms of ensuring the public have a wide choice of packages.
"Joining GTC’s network gives us the opportunity to reach more homeowners with our unique broadband offering. We feel that their open-access policy is the way that all networks should operate because of the choice it gives new home buyers."Joe Tandey, Operations Director at Pure Broadband
Pure Broadband join another four providers Direct Save Telecom, Love Your Broadband, SeetheLight and Vfast Internet who all sell services across the GTC network. For any building developers who want to know more the GTC website will give you a point of contact, but should be known to most through their work installing over utilities.
Our broadband map does include as much of the network FTTH network GTC has installed and there are more locations waiting to be added once we find out the latitude and longitude of the postcodes where people are speed testing with what looks like FTTH but premise is so new its location has not percolated out to the OS database that provides core postcode location data.
A choice of providers is very important on some new estates and apartments as developers do sometimes lock out operators such as Openreach and Virgin Media.
Duct and Pole Access to the many millions of premises served by the Openreach local loop is once more in the spotlight as Ofcom publishes its latest set of detail on the next version of PIA.
PIA (Physical Infrastructure Access) has existed in some form since 2010 but has never been taken up in any appreciable scale and with Ofcom now setting its sights on the UK reaching full fibre coverage of over 50% across the UK reducing the cost for new operators to deploy networks is central to this goal. The lengthy consultation document has lots of information and includes some feedback from previous consultations.
"1.18 If a downstream BT division (e.g. BT Consumer) were to deploy its own broadband fibre network using BT’s ducts and poles, it would be required to use the PIA product, in the same way as any other telecoms provider. BT’s recent agreement to reform Openreach to become a legally separate company within BT Group will strengthen the independence of Openreach from downstream BT divisions. However, BT’s broadband fibre networks are currently deployed by Openreach, and so our focus is on ensuring Openreach does not have an unfair advantage over competing network builders.
2.3 Telecoms providers interested in deploying ultrafast broadband networks at scale have expressed concern over the high costs required to deploy new physical infrastructure (such as ducts and poles). We believe that an effective PIA remedy will reduce the absolute costs and time required for competing telecoms providers to build ultrafast networks at scale. This should encourage additional investment and new entry into the market which in turn will promote competition in the WLA and downstream markets.
2.4 The PIA remedy was originally introduced following our review of the WLA market in 2010.2 The remedy required BT to allow third parties to deploy broadband networks using its physical infrastructure located in the local access network. It was primarily intended to assist telecoms providers wishing to offer fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) services in advance of BT roll-out of superfast broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural locations that were eligible for public funding support. However, the interest from competing providers to BT for these public funds, under Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), ultimately failed to materialise.
3.12 We are at an important juncture in the development of the networks that will serve the needs of the UK in the future. In particular, network competition would make the decisions about how to serve the needs of customers in the future contestable. Instead of being constrained by BT’s chosen strategy of incrementally upgrading its existing copper network, competing telecoms providers have the opportunity to build their own ultrafast networks, such as FTTP."Extracts from Ofcom PIA 2 consultation
The new proposals include a mixed use network, so that operators can also use the ducting to serve leased line connections at the same time as delivering to residential premises, and requirements on Openreach to ensure capacity on poles or ducts and things like duct blockages being cleared on a network 'ready for use' basis with the costs being spread equally across all users.
On interesting aspect is that Ofcom says 'Today’s measures are designed to spur investment in the next generation of ultrafast internet connections, and reduce the country’s historical reliance on Openreach – the network business within BT Group' and while this may be the case in terms of the cabling, it actually increases the reliance on a network topology that Openreach is looking after that is decades old and given the piecemeal way that towns and cities have developed over the decades the local loop is often a lot more complex than it needs to be. PIA 2 has the potential to allow Openreach to stagnate its current product set of VDSL2 products and rather focus on increasing its duct and pole teams and become the national guardian of the various pipes and poles without all the worries of running any active or optical hardware.
The big question now is when will the consultations end and providers be able to make full use of this next version of duct and pole access and which operators are looking to use this on a scale that will deliver many millions of full fibre connections in a few years.
We believe a very likely outcome if other operators do embrace the new sharing regime for full fibre is that areas with VDSL2 (likely to be G.fast too) and Virgin Media cable will be the first to benefit and the low population density of rural areas will mean they are left behind again, unless the continuing gainshare re-investment continues to deliver an even higher proportion of FTTP versus FTTC. The big money to be made is not in providing broadband, but selling access to subscription TV content.
The Government (who ever it is after the June General Election) will need to reconsider how the Universal Service Obligation will work and to date while BT Openreach has shown some interest, if they find their engineering teams are busy servicing a new full fibre roll-out and expanding capacity on urban ducts and poles they may be a lot less interested in delivering USO level broadband to the final million premises in the UK, irrespective of whether it has a minimum speed of 10 Mbps or 30 Mbps.
Sky has released its results for the nine month period to the 31st March 2017 but they reveal very little in terms of broadband numbers, the key figure is that fibre penetration (take-up) is running at 24% of the providers customers. Exactly how many broadband customers have been added is not revealed, though overall Sky added 40,000 customers to reach a total of 12.7 million customers.
The last firm figure for the number of broadband customers for Sky in the UK was from the previous results at 6,107,000, which even if they gained no broadband customers means they have some 1,465,680 customers on the VDSL2 services. There is/was a handful of people on the Sky UFO York trial, and one or two sightings of people who may have Openreach GEA-FTTP.
The financial results gives us an opportunity to share some data from the Sky customer speed tests during Q1/2017, the ratio of ADSL versus FTTC customers that we see is in favour of the FTTC user base where 40% of the Sky tests we see are on a FTTC product, a good chunk higher than the financial results suggest, but given people who have had ADSL2+ for years will most likely know how it performs and people with FTTC will be keen to see how their new connection behaves this is no great surprise.
The news that 8,000 premises in Herefordshire are set to see Gigaclear pass them giving businesses and residents the option of Gigabit broadband will be welcomed by those who are yet to see any improvements via the Fastershire scheme.
Gigaclear has already delivered some 3,000 premises of full fibre via the Fastershire project mainly in Gloucestershire (Fastershire is a joint project between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire). Herefordshire with 9.63% coverage of Openreach GEA-FTTP will likely see the full fibre coverage double to around 20% with this additional roll-out.
"This is a major step forward, not only will more communities and businesses have access to fast and reliable internet, but Fastershire is starting to lead the UK in rollout of full fibre. We’re committed to ensuring that Herefordshire has a broadband network that will benefit the county for many years to come."Leader for Herefordshire Council, Cllr Tony Johnson
Until Gigaclear release the detail of the footprint it is impossible to know the full impact on Herefordshire, but it is possible this could almost eliminate the 10% of the county that cannot get speeds above 10 Mbps currently.
|County and constituency level broadband coverage across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire
Data as of 18th April 2017
|Area||% fibre based
30 Mbps or faster
100 Mbps or faster
Combined FTTP and cable footprint
|% Openreach FTTP||% Total FTTP
e.g. Openreach, Gigaclear, Hereford CIC, ITS Tech
|% Under 2 Mbps USC||% Under proposed 10 Mbps USO|
|County of Herefordshire||93.1%||80.8%||9.90%||9.63%||9.90%||2.9%||10.6%|
|Hereford and South Herefordshire||93.7%||86.8%||8.0%||7.49%||8.01%||1.8%||6.3%|
|County of Gloucestershire||92.4%||88.7%||42.3%||1.71%||5.22%||0.6%||4.5%|
|Forest of Dean||87.5%||77.1%||8.7%||8.67%||8.67%||1.8%||11.5%|
Ofcom monitors broadband speeds in the UK via two main methods, sync speed data supplied by operators which is usually summarised in the Connected Nations report and a deep analysis from actual testing via some 4,824 linux boxes deployed to panellists across the UK. Today sees Ofcom release the results from analysis carried out in November 2016.
Obviously comparisons will be drawn with our own monthly publication of speed test results, but there are lots of differences in the way the data is collected, at the simplest level you can call the Ofcom data the modelled approach and ours is a massed observation exercise. Various plus points and minus points exist on both, e.g. ours includes Wi-Fi which can influence results, but conversely with so many using Wi-Fi all the time its important in the full consumer experience, and modelling from a small sample can miss variations and it is also difficult to look at areas like FTTP (Ofcom has recruited more FTTP based testers, but not enough to feature in this report). One emerging trend is that ECI cabinets for VDSL2 are not increasing in speed the same way as Huawei cabinets due to the roll-out of various technical changes.
"Cable broadband is typically faster than copper-based services, but a significant minority of users experience severe slowdowns in peak times
Contention occurs closer to the customer in superfast cable networks, making it more difficult to add new capacity to reduce the effects of network congestion. But despite suffering from higher levels of slowdown than ADSL and FTTC, superfast cable services still had the highest average download speeds throughout the day. There was also much greater variation in the levels of contention experienced by superfast cable customers, with a significant minority experiencing severe slowdowns. For example, while 47% of ‘up to’ 50Mbit/s cable panellists had a peak-time average speed of 50Mbit/s or higher, 9% received less than 10Mbit/s. There was less variation in the performance of FTTC connections; less than 1% of our FTTC panellists received a peak-time average speed of less than 10Mbit/s, while less than 5% had a maximum speed equal to or above the advertised speed, compared to 90% of superfast cable panellists."Ofcom on cable broadband speed variations
Each month we cover our speed test results there are invariably questions about the Virgin Media speed variations, but Ofcom is clear that their data is also recording wide variations, and given the fact that this can be very localised with cable broadband the reality for some people is likely to be very different to the Ofcom results. As with previous SamKnows results Virgin Media cable also fares badly for jitter which is crucial for gamers and its worse at peak times with cable broadband performing worse than ADSL2+ in this respect.
As an incentive to upgrade to a better service if it is available (and millions have the option but have chosen not to, which is especially galling for those crying out for better services and do not have the option) Ofcom has looked at disconnections, with ADSL performing worst at an average of 1.1 disconnections per day, ADSL2+ was better a 1 and cable and FTTC had a combined average of 0.3. So much better, but oddly the data suggests the cable up to 200 Mbps service is worse than the cable up to 50 Mbps service for disconnections and up to 52 Mbps is better than up to 38 Mbps VDSL2.
One take-away for anyone looking at the difference in performance in rural and urban areas, is that Ofcom has used the BlueWave Geographic Locale dataset to split into 7 groups, this set is apparently widely used in market research, our data analysis relies on the ONS classification system, thus the two may not fully align and this is important when comparing speeds, coverage and other metrics.
With installation set to start this summer some 1,700 tenants in 12 developments across Thurrock are set to start enjoying ultrafast broadband from Hyperoptic.
"We are very pleased to be teaming up with Hyperoptic to help every resident in council accommodation have the same access the fastest broadband speed available in the UK today, as those living in private properties.
The Council is neither financially up nor down through this work, but it has supported Hyperoptic develop an affordable package to areas which are highly populated in a bid to keep hundreds of Thurrock residents better connected.Cllr Shane Hebb, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Legal at Thurrock Council
The 12 clusters are Arthur Toft, George Crooks and Lionel Oxley House, Bevan and Morrison House Brisbane, Freemantle and Tasmania House, Butler, Davall and Greenwood House, Chieftan Drive, Clayburn Gardens, Cranell Green George Tilbury, Gooderham and Poole House, Keir Hardie House, Marine and River Court, Perth House, Seabrooke Rise.
In addition to the usual 20/1, symmetric 100 Mbps and symmetric 1000 Mbps services an additional 'light' package will be offered priced at just £9/month with a 5 Mbps download speed.
All the developments apart from Perth House have superfast VDSL2 at speeds over 24 Mbps already, so getting early adopters to switch may prove more challenging than areas that only have ADSL2+ available, not because they don't want to but that many may be tied into existing contracts. Of course a big factor with Hyperoptic is that if you buy a service you get connected at the speed purchased and the 100 Mbps symmetric service at £35/m is cheaper than many out of contract VDSL2 services. Perth House is in a cluster of exchange only lines, but Virgin Media does cover the building and we have seen speed tests within the postcode from Virgin Media customers.
Given the amount of advertising around broadband switching and broadband offers one would hope that everyone is keeping an eye on what they are actually paying, rather than blindly assuming their provider will automatically switch them to the cheapest tariff. Unfortunately a cautionary note from Citizens Advice suggests that 35% don't realise that they may be met with price hikes after their initial deal ends.
"A new report from the national charity reveals that more than a third (35%) of broadband customers don’t realise they could face price hikes by staying on the same contract with their provider after their initial deal ends.
With broadband customers staying on the same contract for 4 years on average, Citizens Advice warns customers are being charged a ‘loyalty penalty’ for remaining on the same deal.
Citizens Advice wants broadband providers to help customers avoid loyalty penalties by being much clearer about how much their services will cost after the initial fixed deal ends."Extract from CAB press release
Back in February we highlighted some interesting experiments that BT Consumer was carrying out on the public, with the out of contract price being made clearer and we presume this is ideally what Citizens Advice would like to see more of. Of course there is nothing to guarantee that the out of contract price when you sign up, will be the out of contract price once your minimum term is over, and we don't believe any broadband provider has sold a fixed price for your lifetime package. TalkTalk is trying to corner the fixed price market, but their prices are only fixed for the term of contract, and after a few years of broadband and line rental going up in price the hundreds of thousands who re-contracted now run the risk of over paying, since if recent Ofcom proposed wholesale price cuts have the full effect TalkTalk may have a bigger profit margin on those customers (fixed price utility contracts that only guard against price rises, but pass on price cuts are not impossible, but are very rare we believe).
The free market has reacted to a number of measures that improve things for the consumer in the last year, but some of this has not always been positive, e.g. rolling in the various up-front costs into a single price, has seen delivery costs of £6.99 magically become a set-up cost of £9.99, and migration between VDSL2 ('fibre') packages is being discouraged with set-up costs of £30 to £60 that apply no matter whether migrating between VDSL2 services or are upgrading from ADSL2+.
We fully expect average broadband speeds to become a requirement in adverts in 2017, and how this is handled may have an impact as it may discourage people from switching, particularly where they are getting above the average speed now and people worry unnecessarily that their speeds will drop even though the underlying technology and wholesale product is identical. There is also the concern that people who would benefit from VDSL2 but not get superfast speeds may be refused service (example: currently 1.5 Mbps ADSL with 12 Mbps VDSL estimate), or pushed towards a product that is less attractive price wise e.g. none of the offers and with less advertising does not feature in the average speeds of the adverts.
One idea for homes with a shared wall calendar is to highlight the end of minimum contract date for your various utilities so that you don't forget to check what the best offers are, and if your household has gone full digital set a calendar reminder so you get notified a couple of weeks ahead of the end of the contract. Broadband which works reliably quickly becomes invisible, so while those having problems will be ready to jump ship to another provider as soon as possible for those where it just works it is all to easy to forget about it.
Retention deals are still available but changes to the migration system meant that while providers used to have an ideal time to offer you a deal when you phoned up to request a migration code now you must explicitly contact the provider to see what they can offer. There is no guarantee of existing providers offering a better price, but some operators will let you sign another 12/18/24 month contract in return for a price that is somewhere between the standard price and current new customer offers.