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ISPs Give Mixed Reaction to Start of Easier Broadband and Phone Switching

Monday, June 15th, 2015 (3:01 am) - Score 1,464

The communications regulator will, after around five long years of development, on 20th June this week finally succeed in forcing the majority of fixed line broadband and phone providers across the United Kingdom to introduce a “simpler and more reliable” method of switching service. It should be good news, but not everybody is happy.

The new switching process, which is also known by the more technical and somewhat long-winded “Gaining Provider Led Notification of Transfer Plus” (GPL NoT+), essentially harmonises several of the old methods into a single solution that puts the power to switch into the hands of your new (gaining) ISP instead of the existing / old (losing) one.

In short this means that when you want to swap ISP it should just be a matter of contacting the new provider. We have already published a useful guide to explain exactly what’s changing, including some background on the situation, which you can read here: A Guide to Switching UK Broadband and Phone Provider After June 2015.

However the new system is far from perfect. For example, it currently only applies to ISPs that make use of BTOpenreach’s national telecoms and broadband platform (e.g. BT, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk etc.) and separately to any ISPs that operate off KC’s network in Hull.

Sadly Virgin Media’s cable platform, along with fixed wireless, satellite and true fibre optic (FTTP/H) providers, aren’t yet covered. Ofcom continue to work on this, but the low market penetration and or physically separate nature of these networks make it technically very difficult to achieve a cheap, simple and seamless transfer via GPL NoT+.

What the Providers Say

Broadly most providers have been lukewarm about the change and some clearly have concerns, such as with the additional cost of running the new system and the greater potential for SLAMMING (i.e. being swapped from one provider to another without the customer’s consent).

A TalkTalk Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

TalkTalk is committed to making Britain better off, and we have led led calls to make switching simpler for many years. We welcome Ofcom’s new rules, which are a step in the right direction, but we strongly believe they need to go further. An easier, single switching process is vital for a more competitive market, with consumers able to exercise choice and secure better value deals.

As more and more customers recognise the great value they get from quad play (fixed line phone, broadband, mobile and TV), we need to make sure that we have universal provider-led switching across all bundles so that people can move between suppliers quickly and easily.”

Adrian Kennard, Director of AAISP (Andrews & Arnold), said:

We are very concerned over not only slamming but mistakes, and so are our customers. Whether the notice is a letter or an email, it will be easy to miss and find a service is migrated. We are also rather annoyed that the process is now extended to 10 days.

If broadband was like gas or electricity supply, it would not matter as such issues would simply be a matter of billing and could be retrospectively corrected. The service itself would continue.

But broadband is not like these, or at least not always like these. A simple mistake of phone number on a migrate could see a dedicated leased line service between offices that happens to work over Ethernet over FTTC lines suddenly turn in to some Sky broadband or something, with 10 days needed to fix it. Even with a simple broadband service, someone could find their fixed IP service with servers on the end of it suddenly becomes some dynamic IP, no IPv6, CGNAT nightmare.

Several of our customers, small and large, have asked for “migration protection” type services where we auto-reject migrations for them.”

A Gigaclear Spokeswoman told ISPreview.co.uk:

Anything that improves the customer experience is of course a step in the right direction. We would like to see this opened up to the rest of the market to include the pure fibre as well as the cable providers so that the experience for all customers is seamless and hopefully consistent as today the experience can be extremely frustrating for some customers trying to migrate off the copper network.”

An ISPA Spokesperson said:

ISPA supports anything which promotes competition and empowers consumers, however we have expressed concerns on the cost of building the new process into [the operations of ISPs].”

Steve Holford, Hyperoptic’s VP of Revenue, added:

Because Hyperoptic uses its own, dedicated infrastructure, rather than use old copper phone lines, there is no need to manage a migration between providers. The customer can simply cancel services from their current provider and move to Hyperoptic at a time that suits them. Many customers like to have Hyperoptic installed first to ensure there is no loss of connection and to experience the speeds of true fibre broadband – it’s a big difference!

Neil Watson, Head of Service at Entanet, said:

I firmly believe that OFCOM have got it wrong this time. I feel the changes will make the migration process a lot slower and more open to abuse, plus there is little to no comprehension of the wholesale model. The changes will require everyone that supplies broadband to take action and to make significant changes to the way that they work.

We are also concerned that end users will be completely unaware that the process has changed and that it will take significantly longer to migrate their service. We feel it is an unnecessary change that will be detrimental to consumers – thereby flying in the face of OFCOM’s raison d’être.”

A BT Consumer Spokesperson briefly said:

We have engaged in the process and will be ready for the launch of the new system on 20th June.”

A PlusNet Spokesperson echoed BT:

Plusnet are preparing for the new migration system and will be ready for the launch on 20th June.”

Simon Davies, IDNet Boss, said:

It is a backward step because it removes from the customer their proactive control of the migration process and reopens the door to slamming by requiring the customer to take reactive action to stop the process.”

At this point it’s important to remember that the change is designed to benefit consumers and not necessarily ISPs, although clearly some like TalkTalk are hoping that it will enable them to catch a bigger slice of the market. But on the other hand there are plenty of concerns about slamming.

Admittedly if somebody wanted to trigger a switch of service without your consent then they’d first need to have some basic private details (e.g. name, address, phone number etc.). The phone number is the most important one as this needs to match with the existing ISPs records, but all of these details are easy enough for a determined individual to find and then there’s always the risk of a mistake by the person inputting the data.

On top of that a second layer of protection means that both the new and existing ISPs would need to inform the customer (e.g. via email or post) about the change and at that point you have roughly 10 working days to stop the switch. But we all know how rubbish email reliability can be and if the letter never arrives or is missed then there’s always room for trouble.

The reality right now is that SLAMMING remains a very small problem for the industry and it’s too early to say whether the new switching system will change that, although the possibility does exist. In any case one provider, AAISP, is so concerned that it recently launched a free “anti-slamming” service (here).

Finally, another problem is the issue over how this process will help if it doesn’t also factor the other products in a quad-play bundle, specifically TV and mobile. Admittedly TV is less of a critical issue, but most consumers will want to keep their mobile number and having to deal with that separately is more of a hassle. But Ofcom are looking at this.

On the other hand we must not lose sight of the advantages that Ofcom’s system will bring by making it easier for consumers to escape a bad provider and simplifying the whole process by having a single harmonised approach. Just make sure you understand that switching, especially if you’re still under an existing contract term, could carry extra costs and a short period of downtime may still occur.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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5 Responses
  1. Avatar dragoneast

    It’d certainly make me very wary of doing any checks on the web for alternative providers which involve inputting my details. I’d almost expect to be slammed now. Fortunately I suspect that in most cases for all practical purposes, for most of us, price is the only practical difference for xDSL services anyway, despite all the marketing noise and the jumping up and down that comment will receive.

    I trust that the practice doesn’t result in acting on phone numbers only. It’s easy to mistype a digit. I still recall the hassle over several years getting things corrected when the phone directory mispublished my phone number as that for the village clairvoyant. (It WAS a mistake). Never mind, it’s an easier life for Ofcom than actually dealing with the (few) rogues.

  2. Avatar adslmax Real

    What happen if someone pretend typing in someone’s phone number to switch over (will be horrible nightmare go wrong) and customer also get fined to isp for leaving their contract early without their knowedge.

    I think OFCOM are very WRONG!

  3. Avatar Bodincus

    The very first thing I thought when I read the proposals was “This will be a boon for the sharks^H^H^H^H^H door-to-door agents that pop into every shop to promise they will save you money on their phone bill”.

    I had one business customer, running a takeaway shop for a very famous chain, slammed by one of the many “warehouse” resellers that said such thing, promising that they would port his – very important – business number.

    The scammer was so massively ignorant that did not know my customer had his main business number on VoIP with us, running on top of his broadband.

    They migrated away the telephone line, killing the broadband and leaving the poor sod without his main business number.

    It took two months and Court action to regain the line, reactivate the broadband and restart the VoIP service.

    OFCOM did not learn anything from the Domain Name registrars, now ALL have a “Domain Lock” that you need to release to transfer your domain from a registrar to another, to prevent domain squatting.

    Another stupid flaw is that a ruthless customer can get service from a supplier, run up debt on unpaid bills and then switch to another victim, or switching before minimum term, and the losing supplier can’t stop the switch. To get its money back the losing supplier doesn’t have any clout and needs to go to court.

    This new method is the most stupid and vulnerable to fraud I have ever seen.
    We will refuse point blank to let a customer go – even in violation of the regulations, I don’t care – if MY customer doesn’t approach me first.

    There are so many caveats that are unknown to the end customer: imagine the tedium of explaining why they can’t go with the “el cheapo” supplier because it will break everything or they can’t use that supplier of consumer grade packages because they’re businesses.

    Bah. OFCOM, if it ain’t broken don’t fix it.

  4. Avatar Brian

    Talk talk – the biggest offender of Slamming of all time like this. Say no more.

    Already mentioned, door sales. Talk Talk and SSE love this. Yes, SSE, that company which was fined for miss selling.


    A switching process which now takes longer to move a service away if you are experiencing poor service, which the losing provider can also stop at any time by mis-using (read months investigations where they say they misunderstood the use of cancel other and will retrain staff) is an apparent improvement…

    why oh why did Ofcom just not mandate the ability to generate a MAC, on demand, through a portal interface. Just about every ISP has an online portal. It’s secure and no barriers to get the MAC.

    But no, Ofcom don’t want that as it will give the customer the opportunity to re-think their decision to move, perhaps a good thing for those customers who don’t do very well at turning sales people (who are training in all sorts of techniques to get the sale) away….

  5. I agree with many of the above – including Brian. I’ve just put in a request to move from one ISP to another – and have been told at LEAST 2 weeks to migrate. This is now going to be DOUBLE the time that an old “mac-code” migration would have taken. Ludicrous.

    OFCOM are barking up the wrong tree with these changes. They need to prevent slamming, make the migration quicker and simpler, and not open up the floodgates to it. Slamming was really only a problem for line rental and LLU migrations. What’s wrong with a MAC code for those too?

    Gone are the days of having to send engineers to exchanges. This is now an automated Openreach process. And it takes TWO WEEKS!?!?!

    Why oh why is it beyond the wit of OFCOM to have a simple “phone authentication” mechanism. You goto a provider and say I want to switch my broadband to you for my line 01632 960992. An automated system calls you back on that same number and says that this process has been initiated, if you agree, press 1. State your name after the tone and then hangup….beeeep.

    What about making every ISP have an automated cancellation line that doesn’t require you to argue with some Indian call centre worker (other nationalities are available) about why you want to move.

    Try slamming that Talkie-Talkie, unless they’re going to hire armies of smurfs to start breaking into people’s homes!

    In terms of policy – we need Openreach (and ISPs) to be prevented from locking folks into long contracts. If someone changes from Sky to Plusnet, what does Openreach care? They still have the business!!

    Make it easier, faster for folks to move – and every ISP will need to up their game.

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