A couple of stories on this topic have appeared on the Thinkbroadband site this week:

thinkbroadband :: One small step closer to easier broadband and telephone switching
The launch of a full LLU service by TalkTalk in April 2006 saw demand for the product explode in the UK, and with Sky adopting full LLU as standard from September 2011, the need for a simple way for consumers to switch their broadband and telephone service back to another provider once out of contract is some years overdue.

Ofcom launched its first consultation into a new migration process in 2010, and it appears we can expect in the next few days (if the early February 2012 deadline is to be met) a second consultation. Apparently the delay in the publication was caused by the complex issues arising from the multitude of switching options available in the market.

If it takes Ofcom 18 months from one consultation to another, then it would suggest that Ofcom has allowed processes unfit for the market to remain in place for a long time. A lot of the confusion stems from two types of LLU service existing:
  • Shared LLU (SMPF) where the voice phone service remains connected to BT hardware, allowing for WLR products or CPS, with their relative ease of switching. Only the broadband is unbundled connecting it to the providers own hardware, and switching onto and away from a shared LLU service is straight forward using the Migration Authorisation Code (MAC) process.
  • Full LLU (MPF). both voice and broadband are connected to the providers hardware at the exchange. Moving to a full LLU service requires no codes from the losing provider, which sometimes leads to confusion over when billing should finish, resulting in the consumer over paying for overlapping services. Moving from one full LLU provider to another one is pretty straight forward, in fact the ease of switching can lead to slamming. Leaving a full LLU service, means finding a suitable telephone provider and broadband provider, many people end up going back to BT Retail for the phone line as they are keener than many others to handle the move. It is not unusual for people to be without broadband for a couple of weeks when moving away from a full LLU service.

Lets hope Ofcom arrives at a process that works for the consumer rather than just being the minimum the industry is prepared to do, is cheap, simple to use, and guards against over keen sales staff. Switching should focus on presenting a simple process to the consumer, and providers who do not follow the procedures should suffer penalties. Ofcom has in the past taken action where providers transgress, but only after months of problems, we would like to see incentives for providers to follow the rules all the time, e.g. penalties for breaking the rules on a per end-user basis. Fingers crossed Ofcom will ensure that whatever processes they arrive at, also work with fibre products and ensure number portability.
thinkbroadband :: Ofcom moves a step closer to a better migration system for the UK
Ofcom is consulting on a series of changes to how moves between telephone and broadband providers can be made to work better in the UK. The consultation runs until 23rd April 2012, and it will be a year or more after that before any changes take place, so if you are changing provider now, carry on as you had planned.

The new proposals for a variety of migration systems only cover services using the Openreach copper network, i.e. ADSL, ADSL2+ and FTTC. Fibre to the Premises, KCom (Karoo) and Virgin Media cable network are outside the scope of the consultation, but will be addressed in a later document. Ideally FTTP should have been included in this consultation, since we will start to see more people wanting to migrate onto that emerging service in the next year or two.

The impression one gets from reading the Ofcom report is that the market has been allowed to dictate what process it will use, rather than sticking to the Code of Practices Ofcom issues. A shocking statistic is that some half a million phone and broadband customers get slammed a year, and many do not get returned to their old provider. Even where a customer wanted to move customers are often asked to do a cease and provide, rather than use a migration process that exists for the move they are making.

Three main options are being considered by Ofcom:
  1. Leave existing processes in place, but tweak to avoid some of the current problems.
  2. Gaining Provider Led systems, variations range from how you currently switch voice providers, through to ones where an independent third party confirms a persons intent to switch.
  3. Losing provider led, similar to the current MAC system, but with rules in place to ensure reactive saves are not possible.

Ofcom appears to be favouring a gaining provider led (GPL) approach, with the consumers intent to move being confirmed by an independent third party. This third party will have to funded by communications providers, and how this is done will be subject to lots of debate for sure. No doubt any costs will be passed onto the consumer, but if this makes for smoother switching and in particular can avoid the weeks without broadband many suffer when moving away from a fully unbundled service (e.g. TalkTalk and Sky) then it will be worth it. The need for a verification process is because of the amount of slamming activity that has gone on in the UK.

So it is business as usual, with consumers getting confused by the myriad of bundles and option with some that are only available in parts of the UK, and sales staff who often don't understand the implications involved in switching onto or away from their service. With another consultation due in Q2/3 of 2012-2013 and a statement on migrations in Q4 2012-2013, any concrete changes to migration processes are a long way away.