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Ofcom UK to Improve Broadband, TV, Mobile and Phone Bundle Switching

Friday, July 29th, 2016 (11:08 am) - Score 1,301
broadband isp switching uk

One of the problems with the current process of switching between communications providers is that it doesn’t always work properly for bundles (i.e. Broadband, Phone and TV and Mobile) or between different networks (e.g. Openreach to Virgin Media), but now Ofcom intend to change that.

At present if you want to switch your fixed line broadband and phone service between ISPs that use Openreach’s (BT) national telecoms network then it should be a fairly simple Gaining Provider Led (GPL) process, which means that the customer must initiate the switch via their new provider (instead of your existing ISP). See our ‘Guide to Switching‘.

Unfortunately this is not a perfect process because consumers would still find it difficult to swap between ISPs on different (physically separate) networks, such as moving between Openreach’s platform and Virgin Media’s cable network or KCOM’s FTTP/ADSL in Hull. The technical challenges make this a lot harder to achieve in a seamless fashion.

On top of that many people now subscribe to bundles that include a Pay TV component (Sky’s Satellite etc.), which isn’t yet covered by a clear switching policy and that can cause a few problems. Separately Ofcom are also in the process of extending a similar GPL system to Mobile Network Operators, such as Three UK, Vodafone, EE and O2 (here).

Due to all this the UK regulator, which estimates that around 884,000 switches are made between different networks every year (mostly via the old Cease & Re-provide (C&R) approach of cancelling your old service and then ordering the new one), has today indicated its desire for broadband, phone and TV providers on different networks to adopt a simplified GPL process.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said:

“People should be able to switch easily to take advantage of the best deals in the market.

We’ve already improved the switching experience for millions of landline and broadband customers. Now we’re consulting on making it easier and more reliable for telecoms and TV customers to switch between different networks – including when their services are bundled on to one bill.”

According to Ofcom, most people who switched between different networks said they found it ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ easy (81%) but, yet 79% also encountered difficulty during the process. Some of the problems include cancelling their previous service (reported by 38% of cross-network switchers) and 17% noted how they lost service for around a week during the switch. On top of that 22% double-paid by an average of £22 as a result of their old and new contracts overlapping.

In order to solve this Ofcom has proposed two potential options, with their favourite being a natural extension of the popular Gaining Provider Led (GPL) process.

• Preferred Iption:

Ofcom’s preferred option is a simple ‘one-stop’ process for switching. This would place responsibility for the coordination of the switch entirely in the hands of a customer’s new provider. The customer would only need to deal with the company they were switching to.

• Alternative Option:

Ofcom is also seeking views on an enhanced version of the existing arrangements for switching between networks. Under this proposal, customers would still have to contact their existing provider to cancel their service or services, but could do so without having to speak to them on the phone. Ofcom would require providers to offer a wider range of cancellation channels – for example, via webchat or an online account.

The regulator believes that both approaches would reduce loss of service and the threat from double paying by requiring providers to coordinate with each other on the switch and ensuring that “any notice period owed to the old provider would come to an end on the date of the switch.”

Ofcom is seeking feedback on these options by 21st October 2016 and they will then aim to publish their decision by summer 2017. However it’s worth pointing out that at present Ofcom are still only focusing these mandatory changes upon fixed line and Pay TV providers, which won’t include fixed wireless, satellite broadband or other niche alternative networks.

Ofcom also recognises that “a possible unintended adverse consequence” of their preferred GPL approach “would be an increased risk of slamming” (i.e. being swapped to a different provider without your consent). As such they propose to retain the current 10 working day switching period that exists on Openreach’s network, during which time the consumer will have been informed by the new and old providers of the pending switch, its implications and their opportunity to cancel it without liability.

On top of that the providers would be required to keep a record of the consumer’s consent to the provision of the new service(s) for 12 months, for use in the event of a dispute.

new_switching_process_options_2016

Separately, Ofcom are also consulting on the proposed introduction of new rules to “reduce the number of mobile customers who are charged after the date they switch their service to a new provider – saving them at least £13m per year“. The latter is open to feedback until 16th September 2016 and their decision will form part of the overall switching improvement work above.

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Avatar RevK

    Puzzled by some of the comments – switching systems, e.g. virgin to BT, makes it really easy to be seamless as both systems can work with an overlap, so no gap at all. Why do they think switching systems is harder to do seamlessly? Crazy.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      My guess is that Ofcom are a bit bored at the moment and looking for something else to meddle with! 🙂

  2. Avatar RevK

    Your two diagrams ate the same

  3. Ofcom seem to think that an ideal world can be achieved where it doesn’t matter what sort of internet service you have (Satellite, DSL, Ethernet, Bonded, Wireless), that somehow, every provider (and reseller, and reseller of reseller!) is going to be able to talk to each other and start one service and stop the other all within the same minute of a given day.

    Personally I think its never going to happen. I agree with RevK – in my view you WANT an overlap. Why would you trust that when one service stops the other will definitely start?

    We always recommend customers moving to us maintain their old provider during switchover. As the product is bonded, it allows for a completely controllable and seamless transition, because the customer can have one or more new lines installed, and then move their firewall and network over at a time of their choosing, and then when they are happy, migrate the final (original) line.

    When it comes to consumers, I think it was a backwards step moving to a 10 day migration period anyway. We’re supposedly improving the system, but lengthening the time it takes…

    As to billing, I think the language is ambiguous. You may get billed by your old provider quite legitimately for the remainder of a contract term even if only the balance of 30 days notice given.

    Ofcom are an odd organisation.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      It pretty well echoes my thoughts. Ofcom haven’t the foggiest notion as to how to achieve this, or even any idea what it actually means. The only way you could get remotely near to the ability to switch “bundles” is for every element to be available as a regulated, wholesale service so that it can, somehow, be seamlessly stitched together by retail providers.

      At some point it makes no sense at all. Personally I think that allowing “bundling” of content with basic connectivity services wrecks the idea of a competitive market. My preference is to draw a line between connectivity and content. Content provision and connectivity provision are completely different things, and there’s no obvious gain in economic efficiency of delivery that makes it justifiable.

      There is, of course, a very big issue over monopoly control over content when (ultimately) that comes down to the ability and rights of those who control the IPRs to exploit their monopoly, whether it’s a Premier League club of the producers of a Hollywood blockbuster. If you are (say) a Liverpool fan, then the club has a monopoly over you. There simply is no market mechanism.

      In any event, Ofcom are clueless on this matter.

  4. Another thing – bundles.

    Moving between two different circuit technologies is bad enough where there are no centralised systems of sharing data, but how on earth can Ofcom think they can create a process for migrating bundles??

  5. Avatar Ignition

    What a complete and utter clusterfeck.

    Presumably having realised that their obsession with getting broadband as cheap as possible has materially harmed the case for investment in next generation networks Ofcom have moved on to the next thing on their list to break.

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