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Ofcom Announces New Broadband Migration Rules!
By: MarkJ - 13 December, 2006 (12:38 PM)

Ofcom has today revealed tougher rules to govern migration between broadband ADSL providers. It's hoped that the changes will prevent some providers from exploiting vulnerable users, while making switching itself faster and cheaper:

Ofcom’s research reveals that while 83% of UK internet users who have switched provider found it easy to do so, a significant minority have encountered problems.

Making switching easier

A Migration Authorisation Code (MAC) is a unique alphanumeric reference that enables customers to switch broadband provider smoothly and with minimal disruption

Without a MAC, customers can be left without broadband for some time while the transfer is made. Previously, MACs formed part of a voluntary code of practice supported by a number of broadband providers. However, Ofcom is receiving an increasing number of complaints from consumers who find it difficult to obtain a MAC from their provider.

Therefore, from 14 February 2007, General Condition 22: Service Migrations will require broadband providers to supply consumers with a MAC upon request and free of charge.

Forcing ISP’s to provide migration codes within five working days and free of charge is wonderful news, but what if a provider can not be reached due to poor or no customer support? Presently Ofcom has not found a solution to this (as explained further down), meanwhile the biggest change is as follows:

Alternative sources of MAC codes

Some retail broadband providers have been unable to supply their customers with MAC codes when they request them. This might be because the wholesale provider that supplies the broadband service refuses to hand over customer MACs until a contractual dispute with the retail provider has been resolved.

The new rules will mean that all wholesale providers must provide MAC codes to their customers – the retail broadband providers - upon request, regardless of any dispute.

In other cases, consumers have been unable to contact their provider to obtain a MAC code; when the retail provider has exited the market, for example. To remedy this, Ofcom will continue to work with industry to identify an alternative mechanism to release MAC codes to consumers. It expects to consult on further proposals to that effect next year.

In essence this means that disputes, such as the recent NetServices / Biscit trouble, would no longer be tolerated. The change typically comes too late to improve past situations, but those occurring after February should play out very differently. Quite how the market will react is unclear, but should afford some entertainment:

Resolving broadband sign-up problems when moving house

More than half of all complaints made to Ofcom for any reason between September 2005 and 2006 related to what is known as tag, or marker, on the line. This refers to instances when consumers wish to sign up to a new broadband service – after moving into a new home, for example - but cannot because there is, or appears to be, a pre-existing broadband connection already registered to that telephone line in the name of a previous resident.

A more robust MAC process – as described above - will go some way to relieving the problem. The new rules will also make it the responsibility of all broadband providers to ensure that technical and operational problems such as tag on line do not hinder consumers’ ability to switch.

Ofcom will continue to work with all broadband providers to address the root causes of tag on line. BT has set up a telephone helpdesk to support those with a marker on their line and will aim to remove tags wherever possible, or offer consumers advice where it is not able to remove the tag.

Claudio Pollack , Ofcom Director of Consumer Policy said: “Increased competition in broadband has led to falling prices and a wide variety of services. These new rules are intended to ensure that switching is a quick and easy process for all.

Unfortunately the new rules won’t come into force until mid-February next year, although the general crux appears to be good news for everybody. Concerns over Ofcom’s ability to enforce the changes, especially given how long it takes them to recognise that a problem exists in the first place, will continue until they’re tested.

We expect some interesting market reaction to the changes and will be interested to see whether any providers find a loophole. Full details can be found here.

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