Compulsory migration process for DSL providers starts on 14th February
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:
- When a Broadband Service Provider is unable to verify the identity of the person requesting the MAC
- Where the broadband service contract has already been terminated
- An existing valid MAC has already been issued; it is expected that the provider will simply remind the customer of the existing MAC code
- 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.