Unfortunately it looks as if the stupidity of UK broadband marketing might have brought about the end of the old cheaper "voice only" Zen services, at least for new customers. Like an earlier poster, I was thinking about removing the call package from my voice only line, but if that pushes me onto the Line Rental charge, there's no point doing so.
I should probably get on with my long term goal to eliminate my two voice only lines.
The Zen Home Talk Plus line is used as a voice line, primarily incoming these days as the majority if outgoing calls are made on an unlimited mobile contract. It would make most sense to port the number to a SIP based VoIP provider, especially as the DECT base station in use is SIP capable.
The Virgin line is used only for fax. I'm not yet at the point where I feel comfortable without a fax service, so the answer here is probably fax to e-mail for incoming (ideally porting in the existing number), with outgoing fax either by connecting a modern to the remaining physical landline or by using e-mail to fax.
Can anyone recommend any providers? The "voice" number was allocated by BT Retail, and the "fax" number is in a Virgin Media block (having been allocated by one of Virgin's predecessor cable companies).
All the providers compete over headline broadband prices, with line rental shown only in the small print - even Virgin Media, who operate their own phone network. The market seems very sensitive to the tiniest savings in broadband price, so most providers inevitably go for the highest line rental they think the market will bear, typically the same figure as BT Retail.
With respect, I think Pulse8's £6 figure is nothing more than marketing on their part - an attempt to appeal to those who feel line rental is expensive. You can only have a residential line for £6 per month if you also take a Pulse8 broadband service - and their cheapest ADSL2+ package is £19 per month. If you want voice only, it's £13 per month from Pulse8. In effect, their cheapest ADSL2+ package is £13/month line rental and £12/month for unlimited broadband - it's just not marketed that way.
The Advertising Standards Authority would do the consumer a favour in my opinion if they ruled that line rental costs could not be put into the small print. The majority of consumers take fixed line broadband and line rental with voice service as a bundle, so it would be in the consumer's interest for prices to be expressed as a total for both services. It's particularly daft to see headline prices for large triple and quad play bundles down without the cost of the basic voice service included, especially on providers like Virgin Media where a metallic pair is not needed to deliver the other services.
Maybe if line rental had to be included in the headline price, a marketplace would grow for "naked DSL" services, where people rent a metallic pair for broadband with no voice service. It wouldn't save much, as BT's wholesale charges for a naked pair are not that much cheaper than for a pair with voice service, largely because the costs of line plant provision and maintenance make up the majority of the cost of providing the wholesale voice service. It's also difficult to carry out automated tests on the pair without connecting the pair to a voice line port, at which point it's arguably best to put dial tone on the line and allow 999/112 calls. As the cost base of providing a "naked pair" connected to a voice line port for ongoing testing, which is not truly naked any more, is little different from providing voice service, it's easy to see why voice service is the norm especially as interconnect revenue from incoming calls, meagre as it is, will help offset the cost of providing voice service.
Indeed, when it comes to telecommunications, I would argue that the consumer's interests have been utterly failed by the precedent based approach of the Advertising Standards Authority. Providers try something dodgy before trying to persuade the ASA in response to complaints that at least part of what they have done is justifiable and should therefore be allowed in the future. What this has led to is a "blind 'em with bull****" approach by the provider's marketing departments.
We have an ultra competitive market for consumer broadband, at least in those parts of the country that are not infrastructure poor. Some providers are offering the broadband element of a voice plus broadband bundle at almost loss leader rates, then sweetening the deal even further with cash back (or virtual cash back, such as prepaid card credit, supermarket vouchers or Quidco) or a hefty introductory discount in return for a new minimum contact period. The providers know that they can hide the majority of the costs in the small print line rental charge. They also know that the majority of consumers will be tied by that minimum contact period even if the quality of service is poor and customer service is not up to the job, as few consumers will be savvy enough to know their rights and determined enough to use them to escape from that minimum contact period. Meanwhile, a lot of customers, including many in the poorest sections of society, will stay on an uncompetitive deal at the expiry of their minimum contact period, arguably subsiding those who are prepared to keep negotiating a new deal.
We also have the ridiculous situation where hybrid fibre services are sold as "fibre", thanks to Virgin obtaining a ruling that hybrid fibre coax could be sold as "fibre broadband". When deeper fibre technologies such as G.FAST enter the consumer marketplace, we could see something approaching breakfast cereal marketing. G.FAST could be "more whole fibre goodness", and FTTP "100% whole fibre". I could scream.
In general, my inclination when it comes to telecommunication regulation is towards the free market approach, as anything else would stifle the innovation and investment needed to modernise infrastructure and provide new generations of technology. There does need to be some element of monopoly intervention, recognising the significant incumbent advantage that the formerly state owned infrastructure gives BT Group. However, I can't help feeling that the current approach is acting against the consumer interest.
There is much that is wrong with financial regulation, but their "truth in marketing" rules for credit and insurance based products are notable examples of regulation acting in consumer's interests. These rules are not perfect, as is seen in the astronomic APR for high fee low advance credit (though these products are extremely expensive and often have much more limited utility than the provider's would claim, but that's a whole argument in itself).
What I would like to see is that consumer telecommunications contracts have a summary box, standard "right to cancel" wording and a ruling that all elements of the charge must be given equal prominence. Providers would have to show the basic monthly charge for each month of the minimum contact period, with all intended changes shown. I'd also like to see the minimum contact period and the effective monthly cost for that minimum period given equal prominence in the summary box, making it easy to compare deals. This wouldn't stop cash back and low headline rate deals, but it would mean that they couldn't be portrayed as "free for 12 months and only £6.99 per month thereafter", with the £16 per month line rental and 18 or 24 month minimum hidden in the small print.
There's also the issues of inequality of service provision and availability, but those have no easy answers without a level of infrastructure investment that is unaffordable by both private and public sectors in the current economic climate.