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Ofcom Outlines Plans to Make Broadband Switching Easier

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New rules proposed by the telecoms regulator could soon make switching broadband and landline phone provider easier and quicker.

Ofcom wants internet subscribers to be able to switch by simply contacting their new provider. Currently, customers moving between ISPs which use Openreach’s network, including BT, Sky and TalkTalk, can do so. This Gaining Provider Led (GPL) process has been in place since 2015.

However moving between ISPs which use different networks or technologies, such as Virgin Media, with a standalone cable network, or Hyperoptic, with its own full-fibre network, is more complicated. Currently, it requires customers to contact both their new and old providers and try to sync up the end and start of two services. Often this means customers are left without internet for a few days during the handover, or alternatively find themselves paying for two services simultaneously for a few days or weeks.

Many customers are dissuaded from switching internet provider because they believe the process will be too complicated. According to a survey conducted by Ofcom, 41% of consumers who decide against switching are put off by the hassle of having to contact two providers and 43% believe the process will be too time-consuming. Reluctance to switch means millions of households are being charged out of contract pricing for their internet, including for services which are much slower and more expensive than others on the market.

Ofcom announced in October 2020 that it wants to expand “one touch” switching to all broadband and landline customers, even if they’re switching between physically separate networks.

Under this process, a customer would contact their new provider and supply their details. Their current provider will then automatically contact them with important information, including any early termination charges they have to pay and how to switch might impact other services they have with the company. If the customer is still happy to go ahead, the new provider will manage the switch. The customer will receive a switch date on which the old service will cease and the new service begin.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Networks and Communications Group Director, said: “There are lots of different offers out there from a wide range of broadband and landline providers. And we want to make it even easier for people to get a better deal or upgrade to a faster, more reliable service.

“We know some customers can be put off by the hassle of having to deal with more than one provider when trying to switch. So our proposals today aim to make the process as seamless as possible, for everyone.”

Ofcom is also considering a second plan, which would require customers to receive a code from their current provider, which they then use to activate a switch. This is similar to the system currently in place in the mobile phone market. However, Ofcom believes it’s more complicated than the “one touch” plan, which it prefers.

The regulator will consult on the plans until 31 March with the aim of publishing a decision by the summer. If approved, the changes will come into effect in December 2021.

Either plan would require ISPs to make significant changes to their systems. Openreach welcomed the proposals.

Mark Shurmer, Managing Director of Regulatory Affairs at Openreach, said: “We already manage around 175,000 switches every month between providers on the Openreach network and that process is designed to be very straightforward for customers.

“We support Ofcom's ambition to make switching between different network providers equally simple.

“We believe that any solution for cross-platform switching needs to be really simple for consumers and businesses and we'll be responding to the consultation with that in mind.”

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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