Is Fuel broadband any good?
THEY still sound like relative newcomers to the broadband market, but Fuel are the reincarnation of budget phone providers Primus.
Under the new name, they've pinned their hopes on one simple package: a (relatively) cheap, one-size-fits-all, unlimited broadband deal.
Cheaper than chips (almost)
When they launched in October 2014, their broadband cost the equivalent of £4 a month on top of their line rental - less than the price of a couple of decent coffees.
But since then they've raised prices a couple of times, and while they're still cheap, they're not as stunningly inexpensive as they were.
|Package||Broadband||Contract term||Upfront price||Monthly price|
|Unlimited Broadband||Up to 17Mb
Every now and then they'll run a special offer for new customers, reducing the total monthly price by anything from a couple of pounds to the £6 that covers the broadband part of the bill, for at least six months and sometimes up to a year.
They also sell their landline on its own, charging £17.60 a month on a line only basis - up from just £15 with inclusive evening and weekend calls when they launched in late 2014.
As Primus they were famous for having a home phone deal that included line rental of about 70% less than most of the other providers, but now the bargain line rental is gone.
Even so, their standard broadband with phone package is still cheaper than many of the special offers from the big players - see the table below - although it's not the cheapest out there. There's more on where to look for them here.
As well as selling their broadband at a relatively low standard price, they also have a talent for knowing what kind of additional extras that will appeal to their intended audience - they've previously given new customers Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV sticks.
Back when Fuel first appeared, the only company to beat them for phone plus broadband was Tesco Broadband.
At the start of 2015, however, Tesco were bought by TalkTalk, with customers being moved across and seeing their prices increased accordingly over the course of 2015.
Before that, the only real difference between them on paper was their approach to traffic management: Tesco's was not entirely clear, but the gist of it seemed to be ensuring that "our other customers also get the best service possible".
When Fuel, on the other hand, say their broadband is unlimited, they mean no traffic management or download limits apply. The only thing they say will limit a user's internet speed is their phone line.
That's something of a change: when they were Primus, they used to operate a "three strikes and you're out" policy with users who downloaded more than 100GB a month, starting with a warning email and ending with seriously throttled bandwidth during peak hours.
But while Fuel's terms and conditions include a clause to protect "use of or access to the internet of any other person (including substantial data transfers during peak times)", in August 2014 they told Choose their unlimited "truly was" unlimited.
After the rebrand was complete, they also began to automatically upgrade old Primus customers with 10GB, 20GB or 40GB broadband packages, to the new unlimited deal.
The appeal of those packages was that people didn't have to pay for allowance they didn't need - but at £6 a month, it's unlikely anyone will end up paying over the odds however much or little they download.
Home phone required
Once upon a time it was possible to mix and match phone and broadband providers to get a good deal on both, but over the past few years it's become increasingly common for ISPs to bundle services, only allowing customers to take broadband who also take their phone.
So in the past most service providers seriously subsidised their broadband to make it attractive in the face of the obligatory line rental charges - hence the new rules on advertising broadband prices from the ASA - and Fuel joined the party.
Following the lead of TalkTalk, Sky, and Plusnet, they haven't offered any kind of inclusive calls with their line rental since the end of 2015. Before then they used to bundle evening and weekend calls to UK landlines.
Now the only option for people who don't want to worry about call charges is the anytime bundle - although at £3 a month it's pretty cheap compared with their rivals, and the calls can be up to 90 minutes long.
Daytime calls are charged at 9p per minute, which is cheaper than BT - as is their call setup fee, which is 15.5p. They also have a lower access charge than most other providers for calls to 08, 09 and 118 numbers, at 7p per minute; 0800 and 0808 calls are free.
A hint of the complexity Primus were famous for comes in their mobile call prices: these cost 12p per minute at weekends, 14p on weekday evenings, and 16p during the day midweek.
While it's in keeping with the simple one-size-fits-all ethos, the fact that there's no upfront line rental payment offer to sweeten the deal might make it a bit less attractive.
For example, at the time of this update, the Post Office offer line rental for the equivalent of just £14.99 a month using the annual payment option, making it one of the cheapest options in the UK.
Even among the biggest providers there are cheaper deals available.
Plusnet charge £185.88 a year, equivalent to £15.49 a month; even Virgin Media's £19 a month line rental can be brought down to the equivalent of just over £16.30 a month by paying for a year upfront.
Meanwhile many providers beat Fuel's prices over the course of the contract by offering long lasting introductory deals: Plusnet, Sky and EE, for example, frequently offer their broadband packages at a similar or lower price for as long as the initial contract term.
Primus used to offer 38Mb and 76Mb fibre broadband, but withdrew both from their residential offerings in August 2014, in part because of low take up but also because they were holding off for new regulations on how BT charges resellers for fibre.
As Fuel, they say fibre broadband will be made available to customers again at some point in the future, although more than two years on from relaunch it's still not clear if and when this will be.
It's a shame that the almost unbeatable prices Fuel Broadband offered at launch disappeared so quickly, to be replaced with total monthly costs that seem pretty standard.
Let's not forget, though, that their broadband and call costs are still less than those offered by most of their competitors.
Customer reviews seem to rate them as fairly average, with the standard mix of people who've had nothing but trouble, and those with glowing reports.
But for simplicity they're hard to beat.