Ofcom promises easier broadband migration

'Receiving' providers must take the lead

Communications regulator Ofcom wants to overhaul how UK consumers switch broadband providers, giving the new company the responsibility for ensuring a smooth handover.

The current switchover process is conducted through the system of asking the old broadband provider for a Migration Authorisation Code (MAC), which is passed by the consumer within 30 days to the new company.

According to Ofcom, this process is sometimes so cumbersome and time-consuming that people are reluctant to change providers, which gets worse if the consumer is also moving bundled line rental and phone service in addition to broadband.

"The new provider has an incentive to ensure that the switching process is as smooth as possible. This is also more likely to deliver lower prices, more choice and innovation for consumers because it facilitates communications providers competing vigorously for rivals' customers," said an Ofcom statement.

Michael Phillips of the broadbandchoices.co.uk comparison site was positive about the idea.

"Broadband switching should be as simple as energy or any other utility and the process of using MAC codes is often difficult for customers to understand. The 'losing' provider can drag their feet in providing the MAC code and sometimes putting them off switching altogether," he said.

However, the Ofcom proposal glosses over deeper issues involved in switching broadband and phone bundles. For instance, where BT is the dominant exchange provider, the process of moving from one company to anther will often go through BT's internal system for managing phone lines, which adds a third tier of potential confusion to the switchover process.

This can generate blocks on the move that the user is unaware of until the broadband does not go live on the specified date. The new provider will blame the old provider, the old provider will blame BT and BT couldn't care less who is to blame because the customer is not theirs.

The consumer, of course, always picks up the cost and inconvenience of any delays.

This is a hangover from BT's monopoly, which is only now being slowly eroded as rivals construct parallel networks. Many other providers still depend on or re-sell BT in large parts of the UK.

Ofcom's consultation on the matter will run until 19 November of this year. Earlier this year, Ofcom reported that the UK was falling behind the rest of the world in average broadband throughputs.

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