Ofcom Crackdown After ISPs Miss Broadband Switching Deadline

Ofcom has warned internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK that it has opened an industry-wide “enforcement programme”, amid a collective failure to implement new broadband switching regulations.

The UK communications regulator announced the enforcement action because broadband providers have failed “to implement simpler switching” between providers.

It comes after comparison switching service Uswitch.com noted that over 11 million people plan to change provider in the next 12 months, but still have misplaced concerns about switching broadband – concerns which have cost a total of £1.85 billion in overpayments.

One Touch Switch

Easy switching between ISPs has been on Ofcom’s hit list for the past ten years.

It should be remembered that Ofcom changed the switching rules back as far back as 2013 to make it simple and easy for customers using any ISPs that utilised Openreach’s network, to switch between different providers.

But that left a gap for those customers using an ISP that did not utilise Openreach’s network – service providers such as CityFibre, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media.

In February 2021 Ofcom proposed a ‘One Touch Switch’ process, to prevent any ‘hassle’ when residential users switch their broadband providers that utilise different backhaul networks.

In September 2021 Ofcom set an extended 3rd April 2023 deadline for One Touch Switch to be implemented by ISPs for UK residential customers.

“After extensive consultation with industry, Ofcom announced these rules a year and a half ago to make broadband switching quicker, easier and more reliable for many customers,” said the regulator.

Ofcom said its rules also mean providers must compensate customers if things go wrong with the switch and they are left without a service for more than one working day.

In addition, its reforms were due to make it quicker to switch – just one day where technically possible – and ensure customers automatically receive important information from their current provider, including any early termination charges they may have to pay.

Enforcement action

Ofcom said it has been closely monitoring industry’s progress in implementing the changes, and has been putting pressure on providers to meet their requirements by the 3 April 2023 deadline.

Unfortunately, the new process has not been introduced on time, Ofcom noted.

As a result, the regulator has launched an industry-wide enforcement programme, following this failure to meet a regulatory deadline.

“Industry has had plenty of warning, plenty of time and plenty of support to get this done,” noted Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s director of Telecoms Consumer Protection.

“It’s extremely disappointing and frustrating, and providers have let their customers down.”

“We take compliance with our rules very seriously, and have launched enforcement action to make sure companies get this up and running as quickly as possible,” said Luna-Esteban.

Billions of pounds

Meanwhile comparison and switching website Uswitch has called on Ofcom to implement closer supervision of this program, and tougher enforcement consequences for ISPs.

The comparison service said that new research has shown that misplaced concerns over switching providers is costing 11 million broadband customers £1.85 billion a year in potential savings.

And Uswitch said that Ofcom’s failure to enforce this deadline with broadband providers, means customers could miss out on potential savings of £162 a year.

It found that top reasons broadband customers are put off switching providers include a fear of being cut off (23 percent), confrontational sales calls (13 percent) and concerns about being charged twice (12 percent).

Tough deadline

Uswitch called on Ofcom to set a tough but realistic new deadline to make sure the roll out goes ahead as soon as possible.

“With inflation-linked price hikes hitting millions of people this month, the delay to One Touch Switch is a missed opportunity for Ofcom to boost broadband customers’ confidence and help them get a good deal,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at Uswitch.com.

“Almost half of broadband customers want to switch right now, but many will miss out due to unfounded concerns and a lack of clarity about the switching process,” said Doku. “All of these concerns would have been addressed if One Touch Switch had launched as scheduled.”

“If Ofcom is serious about supporting consumers, as well as driving take up of new full fibre networks, there needs to be closer supervision of implementation programmes like this, as well as tougher consequences for providers if deadlines are missed,” said Doku.

“Switching broadband providers can save the average household £162 a year,” he said. “Ofcom cannot allow for further delays at the expense of customers, especially given the current challenges to household budgets.”

“What we need now is a tough but realistic new deadline for One Touch Switch and to push providers to make sure it happens,” Doku concluded.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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