BT throws line to stranded Biscit customers

Wholesale provider steps in to issue migration codes to victims of Biscit's collapse, many of them businesses

Biscit's stranded customers have been thrown a lifeline by BT, which is stepping in to issue the codes they need to find new internet suppliers.

According to a statement, from next Monday these 6,500 customers "will be able to call a special helpline to obtain a Migration Authorisation Code, or MAC, from BT Wholesale. This service will enable them to move to a new broadband service provider of their choice and will help to minimise disruption and downtime to their broadband service. Details of the helpline will be available from a web page that these customers of Biscit will be re-directed to".

The statement also warns that "customers of Biscit for telephone services are also advised to look for an alternative supplier, as from today they will be unable to make outbound calls, with the exception of 999 calls".

But "customers will continue to receive incoming calls while they look for a supplier to provide them with a full service", the statement said.

Biscit recently went into administration, and following that, a proposed sale to another service provider, Breathe, fell through due to legal difficulties. This has left Biscit's customers in a tricky situation, as you cannot get a MAC from a company that is going out of business.

Recent rules brought in by the regulator Ofcom — specifically "General Condition No 22" —  put an obligation on all broadband providers to do everything in their power to make the process of switching an easy one for customers. Technically, this obligation also falls on the wholesale supplier behind the retail provider, but it is generally thought unreasonable to expect a wholesaler to open up its support lines to its customer's own customers.

In this case the wholesaler is BT. A spokesperson for the company told ZDNet UK on Friday that it had decided to step in "because of the size of [Biscit's] end-customer base and the fact that a lot of them are businesses". The spokesperson added that BT's wholesale operation does not usually "liaise with the end-customer".

This latest chapter in the Biscit saga raises the question of who customers are supposed to turn to when nobody is forced to issue MAC codes. One suggestion has been the establishment of a third-party agency dedicated to that purpose, but as yet there has been no word from Ofcom as to whether that might happen.

A spokesperson for Ofcom told ZDNet UK on Friday that the regulator welcomed BT's intervention in the Biscit case, but would "continue to work with the broadband industry to see whether even more might be done to make sure that customers are not left at a disadvantage when a provider enters into difficulties".

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