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New Ofcom rules could lead to broadband switching ‘chaos’

Friday, August 21st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The new process for landline and broadband switching is “really messy” and will potentially lead to a spate of embarrassing incidents, according to an expert.

James Blessing, chairman of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), said while the previous switching system was flawed, the new one has “gone too far” and will lead to more problems.

Last month, changes put in place by Ofcom made it easier for consumers to switch between providers.

From 20 June, the new ‘one touch’ process put the responsibility of switching a broadband or landline service in the hands of the company the customer is moving to, known as a 'gaining provider led' process.

But Mr Blessing, who is chief technology officer at broadband and IT company Keycom, said while the new system seems simple there is no ‘stop button’, which could lead to problems.

It also does not take account of ‘tied’ services, which means consumers would still have to cancel a TV service themselves, possibly creating confusion.

“The old system had its flaws,” Mr Blessing told Cable.co.uk, but he said at least a consumer had to make a 'positive action' to cancel their service by making a request.

Warning that the new system could potentially be manipulated, he said: “You’ve got the situation where if you’re clever about it and you wanted to cause chaos, you could deliberately go away and move the phone line belonging to a Member of Parliament, or a journalist, or someone important to the media like an footballer.

“You could do all sorts of things because the control has gone, you can’t stop it happening, there is no defensive mechanism at all for anybody."

Consumers can also accidentally cause their own problems, he said.

“It’s giving consumers lots and lots of power to move which is good. The thing is, it doesn’t stop them doing stupid things accidentally. Stopping them doing stupid things accidentally is really good.”

'Devious ways'

Under Ofcom’s new switching rules there are safeguards in place, including both gaining and losing provider being required to write to the customer notifying them of their request to switch, any early termination charges, and their right to change their mind within 14 days.

Providers must also keep records of each consumer’s consent to switch to protect against ‘slamming’ – where a customer’s supplier is changed without their knowledge or consent.

But Mr Blessing said they did not necessarily address the “devious ways” people could circumvent such safeguards, either accidentally or deliberately.

“It’s gone too far the wrong way and it’s going to take some really embarrassing issues before it changes,” he added. “It’s really messy and it will get worse before it gets better.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Consumer switching should be quick, easy, convenient and error-free, enabling consumers to take advantage of the best deals on the market.

“In our 2010 Strategic Review of Consumer Switching, we set out our preference, in principle, for switching processes to be gaining provider led (GPL).

“Gaining providers have greater incentive to make the switching process work well, and our research has shown that consumers find GPL processes easier.

“Incidence of slamming has fallen in recent years, and Ofcom will continue to use its enforcement powers to take action when slamming occurs.

“The harmonised GPL process for fixed line and broadband services includes important safeguards against slamming which ensure that consumers are kept informed by both the gaining and losing providers during the switch.”

Ofcom is also looking into consumers’ experiences of switching ‘triple play’ – landline, broadband and pay TV – services between providers using the Openreach, Virgin Media cable or Sky satellite networks.

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