Customers of broadband ADSL based ISP’s should be aware of Ofcom’s new broadband migration code (MAC) rules, which will come into effect from 14th February 2007. The changes are designed to give users more control and freedom to move between providers.

Making switching easier

A Migration Authorisation Code (MAC) is a unique alphanumeric reference that enables customers to switch broadband provider smoothly and with minimal disruption

Without a MAC, 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. However, Ofcom is receiving an increasing number of complaints from consumers who find it difficult to obtain a MAC from their provider.

Therefore, from 14 February 2007, General Condition 22: Service Migrations will require broadband providers to supply consumers with a MAC upon request and free of charge.

Alternative sources of MAC codes

Some retail broadband providers have been unable to supply their customers with MAC codes when they request them. 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 will mean that all wholesale providers must provide MAC codes to their customers – the retail broadband providers - upon request, regardless of any dispute.

In other cases, consumers have been unable to contact their provider to obtain a MAC code; when the retail provider has exited the market, for example. To remedy this, Ofcom will continue to work with industry to identify an alternative mechanism to release MAC codes to consumers. It expects to consult on further proposals to that effect next year.

Resolving broadband sign-up problems when moving house

More than half of all complaints made to Ofcom for any reason between September 2005 and 2006 related to what is known as tag, or marker, on the line. This refers to instances when consumers wish to sign up to a new broadband service – after moving into a new home, for example - but cannot because there is, or appears to be, a pre-existing broadband connection already registered to that telephone line in the name of a previous resident.

A more robust MAC process – as described above - will go some way to relieving the problem. The new rules will also make it the responsibility of all broadband providers to ensure that technical and operational problems such as tag on line do not hinder consumers’ ability to switch.

Ofcom will continue to work with all broadband providers to address the root causes of tag on line. 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 consumers advice where it is not able to remove the tag.

ISP's flouting these rules and other regulations will potentially face a maximum penalty of up to 10% of their turnover.