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Compulsory migration process for DSL providers starts on 14th February
Tuesday 13 February 2007 08:30:06 by Andrew Ferguson

Migrating between broadband providers in the last year has become more complex due to a number of issues which included disputes between wholesale providers and their resellers, new broadband products such as shared unbundling, fully unbundled lines and a number of broadband service providers not signing up to Ofcom's voluntary code of practice that previously existed.

In December 2006, Ofcom issued a new set of rules that make support for the Migration Authorisation Code (MAC) that facilitates migrations on DSL platforms compulsory with effect from 14 February 2007. These rules do not affect cable, wireless or satellite broadband providers. The MAC process currently applies to migrations both from and to IPStream, Datastream and shared LLU products. For fully unbundled products the rules do not apply at this time, but as suitable processes become available providers are expected to comply. It is also worth pointing out that the new rules do not apply for home moves, or where the broadband connection is not live.

The key points of the new compulsory General Condition 22 are shown below. The full statement on migrations can be read on the Ofcom website.

  • Broadband Service Providers must supply a MAC on request within 5 working days
  • Providers must accept a MAC where a customer provides a valid one. This does not prevent a provider from refusing to supply a service to a customer for other business reasons (e.g. credit worthiness, etc.)
  • The provider is not allowed to charge for issuing a Migration Authorisation Code
  • Compulsory issuing of a MAC only applies to connections for consumers or small businesses (with less than 10 employees)
  • The provider cannot withhold a MAC for the purposes of debt collection, or for contractual reasons
  • Where a customer requests a MAC inside their minimum contract period the customer will still be liable for any contractual obligations (e.g. charges for any minimum contract periods, etc.)
  • If a MAC cannot be issued, the provider will explain why
  • Providers should offer the customer reasonable assistance in migrating from/to another provider
  • Wholesale providers must issue a MAC to their resellers (not end users) and cannot withhold it even if there are contractual disputes
  • The provider must not disconnect a customers service if a MAC is requested
  • The retail broadband provider must provide two different ways to obtain a MAC (e.g. by phone, by post, by website form)
  • When a MAC is issued the provider will also provide its expiry date
  • A provider must re-issue a MAC on subsequent requests if the previous MAC has expired

Ofcom does have the power to investigate and take enforcement action if a broadband provider is found to be in breach of the new regulations. Broadband Service Providers have had two months notice of the changes, so hopefully most will be ready to comply but a period of confusion is likely to follow for a few weeks as both customers and customer service teams become used to new processes. Any Ofcom investigations relating to a provider due to complaints from customers or the industry should take no longer than four months to complete whilst any it instigates itself should be completed within six months.

One option available to Ofcom if the compulsory process does not work satisfactorily is to empower a third party method to be able to issue Migration Authorisation Codes. Further consultation by Ofcom will take place if this is deemed necessary. It is worth noting that Ofcom is likely to take a soft approach in the first two months of implementation with providers whose processes have not yet been brought entirely into line with the new requirements, although we hope this will not result in a simple two month delay.

There are four situations where a broadband provider can refuse to issue a MAC:

  1. When a Broadband Service Provider is unable to verify the identity of the person requesting the MAC
  2. Where the broadband service contract has already been terminated
  3. An existing valid MAC has already been issued; it is expected that the provider will simply remind the customer of the existing MAC code
  4. When a provider has already issued a cease order, and the provider is now unable to obtain a MAC for the line

One issue which has created many problems for customers is shared unbundled lines (where broadband is unbundled, but the telephone service is still via BT or Wholesale line rental provider). On 21st December 2006 a new service called 'Provide with MAC' came into operation that provided for consumers wanting to migrate from a shared unbundled service (SMPF) to an IPstream or Datastream product. Obviously consumers cannot be expected to understand the nuances of broadband provision, so it is up to the old and new Broadband Service Providers to help guide customers through the processes.

If a customer finds themselves in the situation of not being able to get a Migration Authorisation Code they should talk to the provider they wish to move to as they should be able to advise. One tool that will help providers is the 'Online Visibility Checker' that is available to broadband providers which lets them see who holds the tag on a line and whether there are any orders or ceases pending. In theory this should help in situations where a retail broadband provider has ceased to trade or not contactable. If it turns out a cease order is in place on a line, for example when moving into a property that previously had broadband, there is a process called 'provide with cease' available to broadband providers that allows a new broadband order to be entered into the system, rather than having to wait for the cease to complete as in the past. This will not speed things up at present, but it will save customers time in chasing a provider to ensure the order for their new service has been placed.

It is impossible to predict what will happen as the new rules take effect but we hope that these changes will make things better for the broadband customer and promote a healthy competitive market where customers unhappy with a service can change providers without being held to ransom, thus encouraging broadband providers to try and meet customers expectations.


Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
1) A cease order isn't an excuse. If the cease hasn't completed it can be cancelled and the MAC can then be issued. A nice hole there for the more vexatious ISP.
2) MAC numbers can only be used once. If the gaining ISP botches the migration, or a customer cancels one migration to go with another ISP, they can't re-use the MAC. There's then no provision to make the losing ISP give a new MAC, so they can just make the customer wait for up to 30 days for a new one.

Nice try Ofcom, but you get 6/10. These flaws will still be inherent and you've failed to address them. Wakey wakey.
Posted by ETEE over 10 years ago
Even though LLU migrations are not covered by MACs, these transfers must still be "seamless with minimal loss of broadband service".
Posted by ETEE over 10 years ago
In the comment above "LLU" should read "full LLU ie FMPF"
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 10 years ago
Fully unbundled lines are called MPF in industry documentation. Full LLU is used by Bulldog and Talk Talk, i.e.where a telephone service and broadband service are provided using their own hardware at the local exchange.

Shared unbundling is called SMPF, and is more common and providers broadband via the providers hardware in the exchange. Any telephone line rental service is unaffected.

MPF actually stands for Metallic Path Frame
Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
Is it not Metallic Path Facility?
Posted by ETEE over 10 years ago
MPF used to be called FMPF (full metallic path facility) to distinguish it from SMPF (shared metallic path facility). I cannot see why they are now using the term MPF instead of FMPF?
Posted by hoodamanny over 10 years ago
Does that mean that talk talk is immune to this requirement, becuase I think that it should have been implemented purely to deal with the likes of talk talk and pipex.
Posted by ETEE over 10 years ago
TalkTalk have most of their customers on SMPF so will be covered by the directive. Those on FMPF or LLU are covered by the directive requirement for migrations with minimal loss of broadband. TT gives out LLU MACs, but not every ISP accepts them.
Posted by Louis_simpson over 10 years ago
Many comments seem to miss the point that BTW ?Openreach can not process migrations without issues and fails - lets hope that they accept responsibility when the more lawyer friendly customers take ISPs to task for failing - when it is more than likely down to a part of BT
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago
In response to stephens comments:

Firstly the new regulations makes it compulsary that an ISP asks if the consumer wishes for a MAC key or a cessation at the end of a service. A cease order prevents a MAC key being generated. Yes if a cessation is cancelled and the service reactivated, a mac can be generated but it will take just as long as just going through with the cessation in the first place. 10 days off ten days on.

Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago

Yes a MAC key cannot be given to 2 ISPs at the same time. If a MAC key is not used correctly by the new ISP then that's their fault and the ISP is liable for resolving the issue with BTW/BTOR. If the consumer wishes to go to another ISP if they're not happy with the first change then the MAC key would be re-applied for and a new MAC key would be given. No need to wait 30 days.

Read General condition 22: It does cover these issues.

Posted by Improbulus over 10 years ago
I posted on this too at Did I misread the new rule?
- there seems no rule making the new provider switch you within a reasonable period where MAC process applies, unlike where it does NOT apply – see A22.2(b))
- A1.13 seems oddly worded, suggesting if the End User does NOT wish to transfer to another provider, the provider SHALL issue a cease request? (What if the End User changes their mind and decides to stay with the original provider, are they stuck with a cease request anyway?)
Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
jondigidol: A cease order isn't immediate and will take at least 5 working days. While it's going through a MAC can't be generated, but if the cease is stopped it can be. Therefore there's no downtime. This isn't made clear in condition 22.
Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
And secondly ... I'm talking about cancelling a migration while it's going through and then choosing another migration. A MAC won't work twice and you can bet most ISPs won't re-issue another MAC until the 30 days is up.

The changes are positive, but clearly Ofcom have done their usual route of a gaggle of execs sitting at a big table rather than getting down to ground level and spending time looking at all the problems.
Posted by caroldavies over 10 years ago
It's not a case of ISPs "not" issuing an additional MAC, they're not able to unfortunately.
Posted by rikyuu over 10 years ago
I have been waiting 8 working days for a MAC from Prodigy (or 16 days if I include the email request that was ignored). They say it can take up to 2 weeks and are not responsible as it comes direct from BT. They also claim to be unaware of the new law and are dumbfounded as to how many ISPs, can issue it within 5 days. Suffice to say I will be in touch with Offcom if it's not received within 5 more working days. I was a happy customer, now I won't use them again.
Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
caroldavies: I'm not talking about an additional MAC, I'm talking about the re-issuing of a MAC inside the 30 day window if the first one becomes invalidated.
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago

Fair enough, I do understand what you are saying. The new regulations are looking at a cease order as in the physical order itself. The ECO system each ISP use to terminate a service places an immediate cease of internet access and starts the physical removal of the Tag from the line. I think you're talking about the process before this. Yes, I agree the MAC key can be generated before the order is placed on the ECO system.
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago
The ISP is responsible of allowing the consumer to have a choice of mac or cease. If the consumer changes their mind the possiblity of getting a MAC key depends on the ISP. Some ISP's generate a cease immedietly through the ECO system where others send the order to their BB provider, resellers being an example.
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago
The MAC key is generated only once within 30 days for a reason. The MAC key is generated by BTW/BTOR through the ECO system. The MAC key is at a cost to the ISP each time it is requested. There is no reason why the MAC key needs to regenerated within this period. The ISP is unlikely to pay for a new MAC key unless they find that the error is on their side not BTW/BTOR.
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago
Hopefully the new rules on the MAC keys will give enough pressure on the ISPs to take migration seriously but at the end of the day the ISPs and the industry needs to make this work. I think consumers reporting an ISP as migration unfriendly on sites like Uswitch and Topcomm will have a greater impact on how the ISPs react to this. Ofcom can provide the foundations for ISPs to work on and protect the most vurnerable but consumers as a whole have the greatest impact on how all of this will work.
Posted by caroldavies over 10 years ago
Please be aware that there is no cost to ISPs to issue a MAC. The only reason why I state that we can't issue an another/additional MAC is simply because we can't, ie the BT systems that are in place will only allow a new MAC to be issued once the current MAC has expired. Hope that clarifies.
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago
Thanks Carole. I will need to check with the cost of MAC keys because if they are not charged for, wouldn't it be cheaper for ISPs to release a MAC key rather that placing a cease order. If this is the case then why are ISPs making it so difficult for consumers to get their MAC keys easily? BTW does charge a cessasion charge. The "automatic" BT systems cannot re-order MACs before the expiry date but an ISP does have the ability to request this manually from BTW. There is enough evidence to suggest that this can be done.
Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
jondigidol: A cease doesn't immediately remove the service. A cease order will sit in limbo for ~7 days doing nothing and it can be stopped at any time up until it finally completes. However while it's pending MACs can't be generated. And MACs don't cost.

caroldavies: It's possible to kill a MAC which results in Eco being able to generate a new one within 30 days.
Posted by jondigidol over 10 years ago

I do know this. A "Cease" order can be sent immediately to BTW and stops access to the internet. It doesn't sit in limbo unless the ISP has not placed the order through the ECO system immediately as I explained previously. The cease process consists of a cease of access to the service and the physical removal of the TAG on the line. The process of migration and cease is not that simple to meet every request a consumer has. Lets not forget this.
Posted by Louis_simpson over 10 years ago
A cease order placed to BTW on eco does NOT stop access to the internet or end connection until BTW complete it. It is not instant, and is infact a 5 day order process.
I will again mention that as BTW or Openreach provide the MAC code, it is quite often out of the hands of the ISP if they can't get one - yes if your ISP refuses they are breaking the code, but if they can't get one from BT.....
Posted by stephen_f2s over 10 years ago
jondigidol: You clearly don't understand the cease process at all. But as someone who's processed a few thousand ceases and migrations in his time, but who also can't be bothered trying to explain anymore, I'm more than happy to let you keep going on about what you *think* you know. =)
Posted by zenops over 10 years ago
The root cause of many problems here will reside between Wholesale and Openreach. I just spent 4 years working in that arena and know the problems. BT MUST get better at managing this as much as ISP's need to be slick from their side. At the end of the day it's irrelevent whether or not it's the ISP or BT the end result is a customer disatisfied. The sooner we all get a grip on that in our industry the better for everyone.

At Zen we try and minimise disruption to our customers but even we are not miracle workers.

Posted by ihtlucy over 10 years ago
Virgin net appears to be applying hte rules 'to their benefit'. After suffering a long period of (sub 500Kbps) speeds and having had two promised callbacks not honored by tech services I was told that Virgin had not signed up to the new rules and that they did not consider that I have made a complaint that would allow them to 'waive' the 50 pound charge. Have now accepted the charge while I consider my legal redress.
Posted by Guest_Again over 10 years ago
I am happy enough with my ISP, and haven't had any problem previously obtaining a MAC - but - the way that some providers are lately, it's excellent knowing the new rules and regulations.
I think that some providers are just getting way too greedy - if it's not the limited 'unlimited' bandwidth it's this nonsense.
Thanks to the Mods here for letting people know of this info.
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