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Ofcom sets February date for easier broadband switching

By Simon Aughton

Posted on 13 Dec 2006 at 12:10

Ofcom has announced new rules on broadband migration designed to make it easier to switch provider and to move a broadband connection to a new address.

The new rules are based on recommendations that the regulator published in a consultation document in August and are a response to research that revealed that a significant minority of UK broadband users have encountered problems when trying to change their ISP.

From 14 February 2007 broadband providers will be required to to supply customers with a Migration access Code (MAC) on request and free of charge. A MAC is a unique reference code without which customers can be left without broadband for some time while the transfer is made.

Previously, MACs formed part of a voluntary code of practice supported by a number of broadband providers and Ofcom was receiving an increasing number of complaints from broadband users who were unable to get one from their ISP.

Ofcom notes that in some cases the ISP may have a genuine reason for not supplying the code on request. This might be because the wholesale provider that supplies the broadband service refuses to hand over customer MACs until a contractual dispute with the retail provider has been resolved.

The new rules compel wholesale providers to provide MAC codes to retail broadband providers upon request and regardless of any dispute.

However Ofcom has yet to decide on a mechanism for issuing MACs when retail providers go out of business. The regulator said today that will continue to work with industry to identify an alternative mechanism to release MAC codes and expects to consult on proposals next year.

The improved MAC process will also alleviate some of the problems arising from trying to move a broadband connection to a new address - or from starting a new connection on a previously enabled line. Such problems account for more than half the complaints that Ofcom received in the year to September 2006 and are related to the existence of a tag, or marker, on the line, which incorrectly shows that a broadband connection is already registered to that telephone line in the name of a previous resident.

Ofcom said that a more robust MAC process will require broadband providers to ensure that technical and operational problems - such as a tag on a line - do not hinder the ability to switch. The regulator added that it will continue to work with all broadband providers to address the root causes of tags on lines. BT has set up a telephone helpdesk to support those with a marker on their line and will aim to remove tags wherever possible or offer advice where it is not able to remove the marker.

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