After receiving thousands of complaints from customers who have struggled to change broadband suppliers, Ofcom had put forward a consultation document with a view to changing legislation to make it easier.
In theory, there is nothing stopping a customer from shifting suppliers. Customers who have grown unhappy with their current supplier should be able to cancel their subscription and move to another supplier. The reality is different.
Customers who want to move supplier, because of slow speeds, poor service and so on, can shift from one line to another. All they need is a Migration Access Code (MAC) which allows them to turn one service off and the new service on.
But at present, some vendors can be very unwilling to produce a MAC number. Only vendors who have signed up to an Ofcom voluntary code of practice are duty-bound to hand over the code. Those who have not may be reluctant to hand over the code, leaving the customer stuck with their supplier unless he or she is prepared to start from scratch with a new one and wait, possibly weeks, to be reconnected.
The regulator cited Tiscali and Netservices as companies who had made it particularly difficult for customer to move their domestic broadband service to another provider.
"A particularly acute example of the difficulties that consumers can face when they are unable to get MACs was the recent withdrawal of broadband provider E7even from the consumer market," said Ofcom in its consultation.
"Two of E7even's wholesale suppliers, Tiscali and Netservices, were unwilling to release E7even's customers once E7even had terminated their contracts. They instead gave customers a choice: to move to a specific broadband provider to resume service quickly — by signing up to a 12-month contract costing £19.99 per month which was higher than a number of alternative providers — or in all likelihood to have no broadband service for several weeks," Ofcom explained.
A second problem, Ofcom pointed out, is 'tag' on broadband lines. Every broadband is electronically tagged, and this tag has to be removed if a customer wants to have a line from a different vendor. Earlier in the year, Ofcom said, it was receiving over 1,000 complaints every week from customers who could not install a new broadband service because they could not get the tag removed.
To address these issues, Ofcom said on Thursday that it plans to force ISPs to produce MACs on request and to make it easier to get tags removed.
In addition, Ofcom is asking the industry to design a new process to allow customers to obtain a MAC from someone other than their existing broadband provider. Ofcom said it will consult again in six months on proposals to make such a process mandatory.
All interested parties have until 5 October to respond to Ofcom.