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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Net supply switch 'to be easier'
Computer user
Increasingly broadband users face difficulties in changing provider
Switching between broadband providers could get easier as Ofcom proposes changes to existing rules.

The telecoms regulator said increasing numbers of consumers were encountering difficulties when changing from one high-speed supplier to another.

Currently, those wanting to switch need to be given a Migration Authorisation Code (MAC), but Ofcom said companies were not always providing this.

It proposes making it mandatory for service providers to issue MACs.

Shift pattern

The proposal has now gone out for public consultation: companies, organisations and the public will have until 5 October to respond.

...some providers appear to divest themselves of any responsibility for helping consumers, leaving a consumer who knows little about the complexities market all at sea
Andrew Ferguson, ADSLGuide

Ofcom said in the majority of cases it found that consumers could switch between different servers with ease, but when problems arose it caused "substantial distress".

Currently, providing a MAC for a customer to pass to its new provider is voluntary for companies, and as such, providers who do not choose to pass on these unique codes are not in breach of any regulations.

One case the regulator highlighted was when internet supplier E7even halted its services.

According to Ofcom, two of E7even's wholesale suppliers, Tiscali and Netservices, refused to give customers their MACs even though they could no longer access the internet through E7even.

Instead, they gave customers a choice of signing a new year-long contract or having to go for several weeks without broadband.

Moving house

Ofcom also said moving house could cause problems for broadband users.

Often, it explained, customers face difficulties in moving their broadband supplier to their new home because the line is already "tagged" or "marked" by another supplier.

As well as proposing that MAC access should be mandatory, Ofcom has proposed that wholesale broadband providers should provide a MAC if the service provider cannot.

It also said it will work with broadband suppliers to find solutions to some of the technical and organisational problems connected to changing providers.

A spokesman from the Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) said there was a voluntary industry scheme at the moment that was set up to make it a lot easier for customers to move - but added that not all ISPs are members of this.

He added the switch to a mandatory scheme would be "a positive thing for competition in the industry" and that the ISPA was planning to participate "fully" in the consultation exercise to give Ofcom the benefit of its expertise and experience.

'All at sea'

Chris Williams, broadband product manager at comparison and switching service Uswitch.com, said: "From the consumer's point of view, Ofcom's proposal to make the current voluntary practice of providing a MAC code compulsory for all broadband providers is great news.

"We hope that their recommendation is implemented as soon as possible to enable customers to take full advantage of the current broadband price war.

Andrew Ferguson, a writer for the website ADSL Guide, said: "It is excellent to see the regulator getting to grips with the issue of markers left on a line, this can be very hard to resolve, and as suggested things are starting to improve in this area.

"The area can be complex and some providers appear to divest themselves of any responsibility for helping consumers, leaving a consumer who knows little about the complexities market all at sea with no-one to turn to."

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