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Telecoms Regulator to Reveal Improved Broadband ISP Switching Process

Monday, November 5th, 2012 (1:47 am) - Score 541

Ofcom has told ISPreview.co.uk that they hope to finally outline their chosen method to improve the migration process for UK phone and broadband providers before the end of this year, which is a “key priority” for the regulator and should make it faster, safer and easier for consumers to swap ISP.

The incredibly long winded process, which first started at the end of 2010 when Ofcom published its ‘Strategic Review of Consumer Switching‘, is believed to have been held up due both to the complexity of the task and Ofcom’s efforts to satisfy ISP concerns about its potential implementation and cost.

A second consumer switching consultation was launched earlier this year (closed on 8th May 2012), which initially outlined three options for a “simpler and more reliable” solution to migration (summarised further down this page). Each of the proposed solutions would also seek to ensure that consumers are given accurate information on the implications of switching so that they can make a more informed choice.

An Ofcom Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

Ofcom’s review of consumer switching is a key priority as it is vital that consumers can change providers easily to choose the broadband or telephone service that best suits their needs. To tackle this issue, Ofcom has consulted on various gaining [new ISP] and losing provider [old ISP] led options. To inform our decision we are considering industry responses to our consultation alongside new evidence in what is a highly complex area.

An update on next steps is expected to be made in due course.”

Suffice to say that the current migration solutions (i.e. ‘Migration Authorisation Codes’, ‘Notification of Transfer’ or ‘Cease and Re-provide’) can be confusing, sometimes carry an unexpected cost or lengthy downtime and don’t work across all of the various different broadband and phone platforms.

On top of that some ISPs are still known to abuse certain solutions as a means to prevent customers from escaping. The current system can also trap customers in limbo when their existing ISP ceases to trade or becomes unresponsive.

Ofcom claims that 1 in 5 consumers who switched their broadband lost service for a week and 130,000 households have faced problems with the wrong phone line being taken over during a migration or house move. The regulator also found that 520,000 UK households have been slammed (i.e. service switched to another ISP without consent). Issues like this might not be as common as they once were but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

The New Proposals

Ofcom are known to be investigating three options. One of the solutions involves making only incremental enhancements to the existing system(s), although the regulator has remained broadly opposed to that approach.

The remaining two options would either put more power into the hands of your new (gaining) provider or the older (losing) one and Ofcom are also keen to use some form of controversial Third Party Verification (needed to protect consumers from slamming).

Ofcom’s New Migration System Options

GPL – Gaining Provider Led (harmonised)

* Incremental enhancements to the existing Gaining Provider Led process only and expanding the process to cover all switches.

* Transfer Code option where, from a consumers point of view, the process is similar to the current ‘Notification of Transfer’ process but changes are focussed on addressing problems with the back end systems.

* Unique Service Number process where consumers need to use a code they find on their bill to switch provider.

* Third Party Verification process where consumers need to go through an independent third party to confirm their consent to switch.

LPL – Losing Provider Led (harmonised)

* Transfer Code option where, from a consumers point of view, the process is similar to the current Migration Authorisation Code process but changes are focussed on addressing problems with the back end systems, improving the consumer experience of a Losing Provider Led switching process and reactive save activity is banned.

* A variation of the previous option where reactive save activity is permitted unless the consumer opts out of listening to offers.

Ofcom has made no secret of the fact that it prefers the idea of a GPL solution, which includes Third Party Verification. This makes more sense from a consumer’s point of view because it would be harder for a provider to stop you from leaving. But the idea of Third Party Verification has caused some ISPs to raise concern about its cost and technical feasibility.

The bad news for consumers is that it could take a long time to implement. Ofcom has told ISPreview.co.uk that they “hope” to be in a position to say something about their chosen method before the end of this year, yet this could still end up requiring a third consultation.

On top of that ISPs are likely to be given a period of grace before the new system is enforced, which could mean that the new system might not be implemented until mid-2013 or possibly even 2014 at the earliest. It should be said that the move to improve migration between ISPs is linked with EU efforts to make similar improvements across the continent.

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