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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 14:49 GMT
Fast net switchers report success
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Man holding his head in has hands, BBC
Moving net supplier causes headaches for a lot of people
Anecdotal evidence from the BBC's panel of broadband switchers suggests new rules have speeded up the process of moving net supplier.

The regulations make net service firms move quickly when customers declare they want to switch to a new firm.

The changes tried to improve the experiences of the growing number who had trouble migrating away from a broadband supplier.

Despite the improvement, one switcher said she was "wary" of moving again.

Tough rules

The new rules came into force on 14 February and force all net service suppliers to issue so-called Migration Authorisation Codes (MAC) within five days of being asked for one.

These alphanumeric codes are supposed to ease the process of switching by uniquely identifying a customer's phone line.

Before 14 February not all the UK's net service firms were part of the MAC scheme. In particular, many net firms that took over BT lines at the telephone exchange, known as local loop unbundling, sat outside the scheme.

Some consumers had to wait weeks without any service while their line was "cleared".

The rules also stopped net firms charging for issuing a MAC or migrating someone to a rival supplier.

To find out if the new rules changed anything, the BBC news website recruited a group of consumers all of whom were about to move broadband supplier.

Some had begun the process before 14 February but others only started after the new rules came into force.

Now almost all those who agreed to take part in our consumer test have moved supplier.

Ofcom sign, Getty
Ofcom introduced new rules governing the switching process
The hardest part for Tom Szirtes was getting a MAC from former supplier Pipex who prior to 14 February had been reluctant to hand one over. However, two days after the new rules came into force he had his MAC and since then has moved to Be who took four days to turn it on.

Neil Smith had a potentially tricky migration as he moved from one unbundled supplier (UK Online) to another (Sky). Prior to 14 February he had been told he would have to 20 days between one service ending and the new one starting.

This waiting period would ensure "the line was clear" and he could be successfully moved across. In the event the move took about 12 days.

Darren Field from Coventry had also struggled to make his net supplier, Bulldog, free the line he wanted to use. However, after the 14th and this was done it took Mr Field's new supplier, Sky, about two weeks to get his new service working.

The date also seemed to be key for Mary King who had been wrestling with TalkTalk over a firm switch-on date for her broadband. In the event Ms King got a letter soon after that date telling her that the service had been switched on two days earlier. This was after months of being without a fast net link.

"I would be wary of changing ISP again," said Ms King, "unless the new system - in the future - proves to be as reliable as the mobile phone PAC system."

Heavy fines

Chocolates and rose, PA
The new rules came into force on Valentine's Day
Research suggests that the experiences of the switchers who took part in the experiment are reflected in the wider population.

Ofcom research suggests that 83% of those switching have a trouble-free experience though it did note that a "growing number" of consumers were being caught up in MAC-related wrangles.

An Ofcom spokesman urged people having a bad experience to tell the watchdog so it can log which firms are doing a poor job.

When telling Ofcom about poor service, consumers should pass on the name of the service; the date the MAC was requested; the ISP's response and details of how often a customer talked to the net firm.

Ofcom would also be interested in supporting documents such as e-mails or written requests for a MAC.

"However," said the spokesman, "we cannot intervene in individual disputes."

Net firms found to be persistently failing to meet the rules on switching face heavy fines.

He added: "If a firm goes out of business or a big problem affects customers then we will put something on the website for people to find."

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