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Those of you with reasonably long memories may recollect an internet provider called Force9 Internet, which was generally highly regarded. It was launched in 1997 by Choice Peripherals, a computer peripherals supplier, and soon built up 5000 subscribers for its dial-up service. It was hived off as a separate operation and the PlusNet internet brand name was adopted in 2000. The firm became a public limited company in 2004 and was bought by BT in 2007, although it still operates independently from its Sheffield office. It now reckons to have over 300,000 customers, with more than 25,000 being direct business customers.

In February 2009, the company launched PlusNet Value, which was claimed to be the UK's cheapest standalone broadband, offering 8 Mbps and 10 GB usage allowance for £5.99 per month. At the same time, it launched a Premium option that had an increased speed and usage allowance. Later in the same year, it added a Pro package with a higher usage allowance. All came with a 12-month contract or a no contract option although, if you take the latter and leave within 12 months, you'll have to pay set up costs.

The thing to watch about the prices is that some go up after the first three months so seeing their offerings on comparison sites is sometimes confusing. Additionally, PlusNet broadband has differential pricing where you may pay more if you're not in its low cost area. Although it supposedly covers 80% of the country, you need to make sure it applies to you.

Various business broadband deals are available, with differing costs, speeds, contract lengths and a phone option. The company does manage its own platform, which not all ISPs do, and so can handle performance better. It also has UK-based support staff that aim to answer calls within 30 seconds and fix problems quickly. Again, however, monthly costs depend on whether you're in their low cost area.

The company reckons that around 30% of its new customers come through word-of-mouth referrals and it offers a monthly discount to referring customers as long as the new customer remains signed up. Customer reviews do appear to be somewhat better than average with favourable comments about value, reliability and even good customer support, although there are some complaints of low speeds and disconnects but whether these are just people based in regularly difficult areas (like most of the North of Scotland!) was not clear.

The company aims to encourage customer participation through blogs, forums and being actively involved in its community site. It was voted Best Value Home Broadband in the 2009 Top 10 Broadband Awards and gained two uSwitch Survey Awards the same year - Best Quality of Connection and runner-up for Overall Customer Satisfaction. This follows on from it winning nine out of eleven categories in the 2008 uSwitch survey along with several other awards.

When searching for the website, don't get confused over the branding (which isn't plus internet or plus broadband, although both bring it out top on a Google search). The proper site address is www.plus.net and both www.plus.com and www.plusnet.com will be redirected there. However, if you enter www.plus.co.uk or www.plusnet.co.uk, you'll finish up reading the Daily Mail through its Mail Online website ... why? No idea, ask them!

If you were looking for a broadband-only deal, you could be seriously tempted by this company which, at the time of writing, has the lowest cost. It does quote reasonable maximum speeds (although not to fibre optic levels) and usage limits, with everything you need to make it work included in the price. Customer reviews also look better than for many of its rivals. However, we're one of the 20% of the population that's outside its low cost area or need a bundled deal - are you? †



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