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Ofcom Chief Asks UK ISPs to Go Further to Improve Broadband ISP Switching

Monday, Sep 16th, 2013 (3:41 pm) - Score 360

The Chief Executive of Ofcom, Ed Richards, has told the ‘Consumers and Citizens in the Communications Sector’ event that telephone operators and broadband ISPs still needed to take “further action” in order to help the regulator remove any “remaining barriers to switching” between providers.

The communications regulator recently announced the introduction of a new Harmonised Gaining Provider Led Notification of Transfer (GPL NoT) process that aims to make it both “simpler and more reliable” for consumers to switch phone or broadband provider (here). This would replace the existing migration code (MAC) / Losing Provider Led (LPL) process and put all the power in the hands of your new ISP.

Unfortunately the new solution would only apply to BTOpenreach’s existing copper line telecoms platform (e.g. ADSL, ADSL2+, FTTC), which also covers unbundled (LLU) services from Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and similar networks. As a result the latest generation of true fibre optic (FTTP/H) and cable (e.g. Virgin Media) products would not be covered.

Ed Richards, Ofcoms CEO, said:

[Industry must] transform switching; to remove the inconvenience, delays and uncertainty that currently can bedevil consumers when trying to change their provider. [Providers should deliver] a system that enables consumers to take advantage of the increasing competition and innovation available.”

ISPreview.co.uk understands that many ISPs, such as Zen Internet, continue to favour an enhanced version of the current Losing Provider (LPL Alt) process as an alternative to GPL NoT that could in theory speed-up the delivery of Migration Authorisation Codes (MAC), shorten the actual switching time and probably also be cheaper to implement. Similarly AAISP and some other ISPs fear that GPL NoT might allow mischievous users to game the system and escape without paying (here).

Gary Hough, Zen’s Regulatory Manager, said:

There are, however, limitations to this new [GPL NoT] process. It will initially only cover those consumers who switch fixed or voice line services where their existing provider uses the BTOpenreach copper network, this excludes Virgin Media who will be considered later in the planning phases of Ofcom’s work.

The new process also does not consider Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) services either. Ofcom have said this is because they are yet to see any significant demand for those services. However they do plan to look at other technologies in phase 2 of their planning which should cover this. We expected to see this from the outset as FTTP is likely to be a major broadband service and take up by consumers is likely to grow in significant numbers over the next 5 years. In fact it is one of the main drivers for our own recent significant investment in Fibre Optic Broadband services and packages.

Whilst we agree with Ofcom multiple processes can create complications for the provider and the consumer alike, we are yet to be fully convinced that this new process will make much difference. However we will continue to work with Ofcom and our industry to ensure any new processes meet all of our expectations, and those of our consumers.”

However one of the problems with an LPL approach is that consumers could still struggle if their ISP ignores the MAC request or suddenly becomes unreachable. Ofcom therefore believes that it’s better to place the onus for switching with the customers new ISP (GPL NoT), which would also be naturally incentivised to deal with the process in a timely fashion. But this will require a robust and potentially more costly solution to help prevent abuse (e.g. slamming).

Richards told the event that GPL NoT was ultimately a “a step in the right direction” and also called for telecoms providers to work towards removing some of the remaining barriers to switching, such as by resolving the complexity around switching bundles or when moving between completely different networks (i.e. cable to FTTC etc.). Ofcom claims that its GPL NoT approach also has support from the UK government and Europe.

But at the end of the day consumers will still have to wait a long time before the new system, which should be finalised during early 2014, is actually introduced. Indeed it’s likely to be around the middle of 2015 before the system is enforced and at that point it will have taken a whopping 5 years to develop and introduce!

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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