Broadband users will find it easier to switch to a new ISP from Wednesday.
Starting on Valentine's Day, users nearing the end of their broadband contract will be able to demand a migration access code (MAC) from their ISP. They can give the MAC to their new ISP, which should enable a seamless handover of service. The provision of MACs will become mandatory and must be made free of charge, according to new rules being imposed by Ofcom, the telecoms regulator.
Ofcom originally laid down its plans for mandatory MACs in December. Some ISPs provided users with a MAC before this, but only on a voluntary basis.
Customers who couldn't extract a MAC from their ISP often found they lost their broadband service for up to a fortnight while changing suppliers.
"The changes to the MAC process are not going to solve all the problems, but it does give more power to the consumer," said Andrew Ferguson, an industry analyst with thinkbroadband.com. Ferguson said that new regulatory conditions would mean ISPs are expected to co-operate better than in the past, even where the customer's old supplier is in financial difficulties.
But Ferguson warned that, although the larger ISPs are likely to co-operate with the new rules, some of the smaller providers might flout the regulations. "Some of the smaller providers may continue to not always play by the rules," he said.
MAC codes apply only to DSL providers who have not installed their own broadband equipment in BT's local exchanges — a process known as local loop unbundling. MACs do not apply to NTL: Telewest, which recently rebranded as Virgin Media, or to wireless or satellite providers.
Users moving home are not covered by MAC codes, and are likely to continue to face a loss of service until a couple of weeks after they move. ISPs are also permitted not to provide MAC codes to businesses of 10 employees or more.