Ofcom Proposes Easier Broadband Switching

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Ofcom proposals seek easier broadband and landline switching for consumers hunting for a better deal

Communications regulator Ofcom has announced new measures to make it easier for consumers to switch their broadband and landline connections to rival ISPs.

And the move has been mostly welcomed by the ISP community, but with some reservations.

Ofcom Proposals

Ofcom’s measures were first announced early in July, when Ofcom proposed a number of changes to the UK’s broadband market so as to make it cheaper to switch broadband providers, and improve their service, installation and repair times.

Now the regulator has added some flesh to the bones of its proposals, which apply only to BT Openreach’s copper based network.

The main thrust of Ofcom’s proposals has been to make the customer’s new service provider responsible for managing the transfer process. And Ofcom’s measures includes steps to prevent against loss of service when switching.

Fibre, network, broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012Ofcom felt that the switching process in the past was overly complex and could cause confusion, preventing customers from switching ISPs. Previously, a customer had to convince their existing service provider to obtain a code to give to their new provider, which it felt gave too much power to the service provider that is losing the customer, as they could delay or disrupt the transfer. Now consumers will only need to talk to their new service provider, who will manage the switch.

And Ofcom has also set out additional measures to help prevent consumers losing their service during the changeover process, or indeed being switched without their consent (a process known as ‘slamming’).

“Today’s announcement represents an important milestone in Ofcom’s work to improve consumers’ experience when switching provider,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director.

“The move towards one clear and simple system led by the gaining provider will result in a switching process that works in consumers’ best interests. We will now be working on further measures to improve consumers’ experience of switching.”

Ofcom is proposing to change the regulatory rules (known as ‘General Conditions’) and its consultation closes on 2 October, will a finalisation of the details by early 2014. It expects the new process coming into effect within a year thereafter.

Ofcom said it may in future also review switching processes for pay TV and mobile.

Industry Reaction

The move has been welcomed by the industry, but with some reservations.

“Anything which makes it more convenient to switch providers in what is already considered one of the most competitive marketplaces should be welcomed,” said Nicholas Lansman, ISPA Secretary General. “Industry, however, does have concerns over the implementation of GPL, specifically the  technical procedure and back-end complexities involved in migrating a customer over.”

And BT, the UK’s largest ISP, also voiced its backing for the move, but again expressed some reservations.

“BT has been pushing for a unified approach to switching across all voice and broadband services for a long time now, and we therefore welcome today’s announcement,” said BT in a statement.

“It is vital for consumers to be able to make a fully-informed decision, and then to switch quickly and easily, with no loss of service or possibility of slamming,” said the ISP.

“Whilst Ofcom’s proposals are a step in the right direction in improving customers’ experience, we are disappointed that they have not taken the opportunity to adopt a process which could be extended to cover switches to and from other networks such as cable in future, so that we have one single, clear and simple system,” said BT. “Customers often want to buy their landline and broadband in a bundle with TV these days, so we are also keen that Ofcom extends a simplified process to cover pay-TV and mobile. We will continue to work with Ofcom and industry to make these improvements as soon as possible.”

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