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Ofcom Pressures Big UK ISPs to Set New Broadband Switching Date

Tuesday, Feb 13th, 2024 (1:54 pm) - Score 6,160
consumer switching uk broadband and phone

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has written a new letter that singles out big ISPs, including BT, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Virgin Media (VMO2), for being too slow to implement their One Touch Switch (OTS) system, which aims to make it quicker and easier for consumers to switch providers on different networks.

The OTS system essentially expands the existing Gaining Provider Led (GPL) migration path (i.e. you contact your new provider and the switch is handled automatically) to work across lots of other networks (the old one was mainly focused on Openreach based ISPs) and to action switches within just 1 day “where technically possible“. The regulator originally set a deadline for OTS to be implemented by 3rd April 2023.

Sadly, that deadline came and went (here), which is something we’ve covered extensively before (here, here and here). The delays were, in our opinion, a collective mix of both industry and regulator failings. Ofcom may like to place the bulk of blame for all this at the industry’s feet, although in our view there was also a lack of regulatory leadership (i.e. expecting cats to herd themselves). But we’re not going to repeat all of that again today.

The industry-led One Touch Switching Company (TOTSCo), which was only established during mid-2022 and is responsible for implementing Ofcom’s already heavily delayed One Touch Switch (OTS) system, then revised their plans and set a revised launch date for 14th March 2024 (here). But at the end of 2023 TOTSCo acknowledged that the new date was “no longer achievable” (here) and, despite two months having passed, they’ve yet to set a revised one. Needless to say, this is making Ofcom very unhappy and they’ve just written an angry letter to ISPs.

Copy of Ofcom’s New Letter

One Touch Switch implementation

I am writing to update you on Ofcom’s recent actions in view of the continued delay regarding the industry launch date for One Touch Switch (OTS). You will be aware of TOTSCo’s announcement on 13 December 2023 abandoning the planned go-live date of 14 March 2024. This has serious implications for consumers, for competition and for the orderly implementation of the OTS process.

It is our understanding that TOTSCo took its decision in December following communication from BT, Sky, TalkTalk and VMO2. Since TOTSCo’s announcement, there is still no clarity from industry on the OTS go live date, despite OTS being a regulatory requirement since April 2023. Ofcom is very concerned about the repeated delays and the length of time now being taken to finalise an agreed go-live date, which is preventing consumers from realising the benefits of easier and simpler switching.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcoms Group Director of Networks & Communications, has written to each of the four providers to set out our concerns, and to require them with utmost urgency to finalise a launch date that is the earliest possible implementation date for OTS. We are cognisant that the lack of clarity about the go live date is also creating uncertainty for industry.

Notwithstanding, I expect all communications providers in scope of the One Touch Switch rules to continue to make all necessary preparations so they can meet the revised OTS go live date. This includes going through the necessary onboarding processes with TOTSCo to obtain an RCPID and carrying out appropriate testing. Such preparations must not be left until the last minute as otherwise providers will risk undermining an orderly implementation, and possible enforcement action.

Ofcom will continue to monitor the implementation of OTS.

Yours sincerely,

Cristina Luna-Esteban

(Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection Networks & Communications)

The regulator said last year that they would “not hesitate to use the full force of our enforcement powers on behalf of customers who have been waiting far too long for a simpler way of switching,” although that effort to concentrate minds appears to have had little impact. But it’s not only Ofcom having a moan.

A Spokesperson for Vodafone told ISPreview:

“One touch switching is clearly in consumer’s interests and, as a company that was ready to meet the March 14 2024 deadline, we’re massively disappointed to see a continued delay, especially since there hasn’t been a new target date agreed. This is simply an opportunity for ‘Big 4’ to continue to lock customers into expensive broadband contracts when they could be getting the same service for less from companies like ourselves.

We’re calling on BT, TalkTalk, Sky and VM02 to stop delaying and agree a new date and we expect Ofcom to hold them all to account.”

The difficult for the biggest broadband providers is that it can take many months of testing before they’re confident enough to proceed to implementation, but full-scale testing only recently became possible via TOTSCo’s switching platform. On a major network, even small mistakes in a new system can result in a big, costly problem, which may even lead to regulatory fines. Suffice to say, they want to get things right first time.

On the other hand, it’s clear that Ofcom’s patience and flexibility is running out, which could also lead to punitive actions if a more concrete date isn’t put on the table soon.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
7 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    The issue is, VM02 is mainly HFC still and not FTTP – I wouldn’t easily be able to switch to FTTP from without an engineer, I have CF available in my street, VM02 apparently have FTTP in my street, but they used HFC to lock me in

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The FTTP upgrade side isn’t ready for customers yet, sadly.

    2. Avatar photo Niall says:

      Hi Andrew,

      OTS is agnostic to the medium over which the Broadband is delivered and focused on switching the customer’s service contract. The actual switching over of the service can follow days/weeks later and this can be from FWA to Fibre, HFC to FTTC, or Fibre to HFC, etc. The issue with the Big 4 is basically an IT problem surrounding how they are managing the Customer Bases within their CRM/BSS systems and how they are trying to connect to the TOTSCo Hub. Note: Others with a similar amount of legacy such as KCOM would have been ready for the March go-live date plus this is live is most jurisdictions across the EU.

  2. Avatar photo Anthony says:

    Ofcom really should be concentrating on doing something about TalkTalk and Vodafone on CityFibre. It is a joke the way they both go on. Locking your lines to them and not letting you leave to either one. It’s just pure uncompetitive behaviour.

    1. Avatar photo Jon Motsom says:

      What are you talking about?

  3. Avatar photo Bob says:

    This is likely to become a bigger problem with the switch to Digital. t really ought to have been sorted before the Digital rollout

  4. Avatar photo Joe says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph. TOTSCo have been trying to say their platform is production ready for the last 2 months….it isn’t, and repeated testing has shown to have significant issues.

    The platform was over a month late being made available for any provider integration testing, and that rolled into the Christmas period where everyone loses time on projects, so full end to end testing is at least 2 months behind where TOTSCo committed it would be.

    The big CPs have had no choice but to say they aren’t ready, but it is pointless OFCOM complaining to them when they were hamstrung by the lack of reliable testing environments. If OFCOM wants them to rush a half tested process into live with insufficient testing, then will OFCOM carry the can if there are problems that impact customers….I bet they won’t and will seek to blame CPs again.

    The CPs have been moving heaven and earth to try an get all of the processes defined, and there is still much to be done. OFCOM never contribute to these engagements, instead they delegate to the OTA, and they are close to what is going on and know the real truth, though that obviously means nothing to OFCOM.

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