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Big Ofcom Changes to Help Broadband ISP and Mobile Switching UPDATE

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 (9:20 am) - Score 3,990
consumer switching uk broadband and phone

The national telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today proposed to make switching between broadband ISPs on physically separate UK networks easier (e.g. BT to Hyperoptic) and they also intend to ban mobile operators from selling “locked” handsets (i.e. Smartphones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked).

Most of the changes being proposed today are intended to reflect the new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), which among other things included a proposal for “making it easier to change service provider and keep the same phone number, including rules for compensations if the process goes wrong or takes too long” (here). Ofcom has also added a few of their own tweaks.

NOTE: EU member states have until 21st December 2020 to transpose the changes into national law (likely to happen regardless of Brexit).

At present switching between ISPs on Openreach’s (BT) national UK network is a fairly easy and largely automated Gaining Provider Led (GPL) process (i.e. just contact your new ISP and they’ll get the ball rolling), but the rapid rise in new alternative network platforms (plus Virgin Media) – particularly full fibre (FTTP) providers like Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear etc. – has begun to put a strain this.

Customers who want to switch between such physically separate networks often have to take the manual cancellation route (i.e. order the new service and then contact your old ISP to cancel the old one), which can result in longer periods of downtime (perfect coordination is difficult) and greater uncertainty for consumers.

Ofcom says their research shows that 43% of people who decide against switching do so because they are worried about arranging two different services to start and end at the right time. Meanwhile 37% are put off by having to speak to two different providers and 35% worry about having to pay their old and new provider at the same time.

Broadband Switching Change

Ofcom’s plan is to require a customer’s new broadband ISP to lead the switch (extending the aforementioned GPL approach), and offer a “seamless switching experience“, regardless of whether they are moving across different fixed networks or between providers of ultrafast broadband services on the same fixed network. There are currently no regulated processes in place for these types of switches.

Any loss of service that might occur during a switch should not exceed 1 working day and ISPs will be expected to compensate customers if things go wrong (details to be decided). The regulator has also proposed to ban notice period charges beyond the switch date for residential customers switching their fixed services (there are already existing rules on this for mobile customers).

The ban on notice period charges is intended to help prevent situations where customers might end up paying for two services at the same time, even though you could only use one of those. All of this should help to complement the introduction of end-of-contract notifications coming in February 2020 (here).

Mobile Switching Change

Some mobile network operators sell locked devices so they cannot be used on another network. If customers want to keep using the same device after they switch, this practice “creates additional hassle and can put someone off from switching altogether.” Ofcom are thus proposing to ban the sale of locked mobile devices to remove this hurdle for customers.

The regulator noted that “early half of customers who try to unlock their device find it difficult.” For example, they may experience a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock their device; they might be given a code that does not work; or they could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch.

The change should complement the new “Text-to-Switch” (Auto-Switching) system for UK mobile operators, which was introduced in June 2019 and has made it much easier to change operator (here).

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

“Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating. By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”

As part of these proposals Ofcom will also require providers to deliver better contract information and a stronger right to exit. In other words, customers should be given the information they need in writing, before they sign a contract – including a summary of key contract terms.

The regulator also proposes to give customers the right to exit their contract if there are “any changes to their contract that they have not been previously told about and that are not exclusively to their benefit” (e.g. removing service features). This right to exit will also apply to other services or equipment bought as part of a bundle with a communications service.

Finally, Ofcom are proposing that all phone and broadband ISPs enable British Sign Language (BSL) users to contact the emergency services using video relay services. In addition, they are also proposing that all written communications (e.g. information about price rises or missed payments) to all customers who need alternative formats because of their disabilities, should be provided in an accessible format (such as large print) on request.

Otherwise the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA) is currently busy coordinating an industry working group to develop detailed process specifications for switching fixed broadband services for residential customers in line with the new requirements (they’re also working to improve phone number portability, particularly for VoIP). The OTA recently described progress on this as “slow and steady” with “mixed views expressed by different stakeholders.”

The new consultation is inviting responses by 3rd March 2020 and Ofcom then aims to publish its decision statement in Q1 2020/21. The move will certainly give alternative network (AltNet) ISPs something to think about, particularly as until now most of them won’t have had to deal too much with complex regulatory matters and process requirements beyond the basics.

Speaking of switching, Ofcom recently launched a new proposal, which would require providers to trial new measures to help people shop around (e.g. this could include a collective switching trial to help the “least engaged customers” who may benefit from targeted support to get a better deal). Such a trial would test measures in “real life” scenarios, using a sample of customers (that review is also expected to be concluded by March 2020).

UPDATE 10:53am

The first comment has arrived.

A Three UK Spokesperson said:

“We don’t believe that there should be any barriers to switching mobile provider. That’s why we have supplied all our handsets unlocked at the point of sale since 2014. We welcome Ofcom’s preferred proposal to ensure that all operators sell unlocked handsets, ending a practice that three quarters of consumers find unfair.

However, there is no technical reason for a 12-month implementation period and urge them to bring their timetable forward, so that consumers can benefit from simpler switching in 2020.”

UPDATE 2:44pm

Now one from Telefonica UK.

An O2 Spokesperson said:

“At O2 we always support fairness for customers. We welcome Ofcom’s plan on handset unlocking and are pleased that the regulator recognises we’re ahead of the curve on this.”

UPDATE 4:51pm

We’ve had a comment from altnet builder Cityfibre.

A Spokesperson for Cityfibre said:

“We are encouraged by Ofcom announcing plans to make it easier for customers to choose to access our full fibre network. Measures such as these will help the industry to become more competitive, supporting the rollout of full fibre networks by companies such as CityFibre as we look to reach the ambitious 2025 target the previous government set out.

As CityFibre grows to become the UK’s third national digital infrastructure platform, we welcome all the support Ofcom is able to provide consumers in making it easier to switch their provider.”

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

    No more Brexit fighting please. We won’t allow abuse between members. Please focus your debate on Ofcom’s proposed changes only.

    1. Avatar Mike says:

      To be fair you did mention Brexit first 🙂

  2. Avatar John says:

    Mark have you ever switched between an OpenReach provider and Virgin?
    It is essentially the same process as OpenReach to OpenReach and has been for a while.

    My street just went live with Virgin and at least half a dozen of my neighbours (myself included) just migrated seamlessly.

    I contacted Virgin, have them my Plusnet landline number and they did the rest.

    There was the added bonus of zero downtime as the Plusnet line ran right to midnight on the migration day.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Virgin as a major ISP aren’t such a problem as they already follow a broadly similar approach to the Openreach centric GPL system, although strictly speaking the rules say it’s still down to the customer to arrange everything via both the losing and gaining provider. Sadly there are altnet ISPs that don’t even attempt to follow a smooth approach to migrations (either inwards, outwards or both).

    2. Avatar Andrew Ferguson says:

      In this case its the phone number shift that is triggering everything rather than the broadband

  3. Avatar Random Precision says:

    O2 ahead of the curve!! I left O2 had my phone unlocked and it wouldn’t allow WiFi calling on my new network due to O2 bloatware.

    1. Avatar dave says:

      Wrong. It’s not because of O2 bloatware, it’s because android does not have a coordinated approach to WiFi and 4G (VoLTE) calling.

  4. Avatar Annegret Bredenhann says:

    Is this also recommended for Namibia

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