One of the biggest headaches in moving house is the inherent lag-time between moving in and waiting for that broadband connection to get up and running. It’s perhaps a sad state-of-affairs, but I’d sooner do without a fridge for that first week in a new pad than be without the Internet, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

But what if you’re not moving house – what if you’re perfectly happy where you live and you just want a new broadband provider? It’s the same problem – there’s often a period in the middle of changing that means you’ll have to make do with what your smartphone has to offer, or hit the local cyber-cafe (remember them?).

However, Ofcom, the UK regulatory body for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries, has announced plans to make it easier for consumers to change broadband and landline providers.

Ofcom’s research suggests that a fifth of consumers who switch broadband provider lose their service for about a week, whilst as many as 520,000 households had their landline or broadband services ‘slammed’ in the past year, meaning their service was switched without their consent.

The new provider takes control

You may remember that Ofcom introduced changes last year to make it easier for consumers to port their mobile number across to a new mobile provider. Well, the same principle is now being extended to the broadband and landline realm, where the new provider takes on the onus of ensuring the service is effectively and efficiently switched with minimal lag-time.

Ofcom’s proposals include:

  • Ensuring that switches are verified by an independent third party to protect consumers from slamming
  • Simplifying the process so that consumers are not confused by different methods of switching
  • Ensuring that all providers can compete so consumers can continue to benefit from innovation, choice and value for money
  • Addressing technical problems when switches take place, which currently can lead to the wrong line being switched and consumers losing service
  • Ensuring that consumers have accurate information on the implications of switching so that they can make informed decisions on whether to change providers
  • Simplifying the switching process so consumers do not have to contact  different providers when moving to a bundle

Currently, to switch broadband services the consumer contacts their provider to obtain a Migrations Authorisations Code (MAC). The consumer must then contact their new provider to give them their MAC within 30 days to allow the switch to proceed.

Some landline/broadband bundles may be switched using a so-called ‘Cease and Re-provide’ process where there are no agreed industry switching processes in place. This essentially means that the consumer ends their contract with the old provider and requests a service from the new provider. This requires the consumer to manage the start and end of their services and they may incur charges. Ofcom says:

“To enable consumers to efficiently switch between providers that are delivering the service over Metallic Path Facility technology, the new provider needs to support some additional system capabilities. However, some of these providers have chosen not to support these capabilities making it more difficult for consumers to switch.

Because of the deficiencies outlined, some providers do not follow industry agreed switching processes and instead ask the consumer to cease their existing service and start a new provide with them this is called Cease and Re-provide.”

Not only is this a lot of hassle for the consumer and can deter them from switching providers, it also means they may lose their telephone number and be without their service for some time. “Evidence suggests that 42% of consumers that went through Cease and Re-provide should have gone through the industry agreed processes,” says Ofcom. In short, these ‘industry agreed processes’ would help ensure continuity of service during the switching process.

This is something Ofcom will be working on – it will look at ways to better manage the switching process. A third party verification process, where consumers need to go through an independent third party to confirm their consent to switch, is where Ofcom is currently leaning.

“Smooth switching processes are essential to ensure that consumers can change providers with confidence,” says Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards. “Many people think that the current systems are too difficult and unreliable which is why we have made it one of our priorities to tackle this problem. Ofcom has improved consumer information on broadband speeds and enhanced competition in the market but it is also essential that people are able to switch easily to exercise their choice. Today’s proposals are designed to make the process easier, more reliable and safe from slamming. We believe that the proposals would improve consumers’ experience of switching and ensure that they continue to benefit from competition.”

You can read Ofcom’s summary report here – it’s also worth noting that this doesn’t yet apply to cable, but it intends to consider this after it has concluded this initial part of its switching review.