Ofcom moves towards seamless network switching for December 2022
This is not the first attempt at regulation to make switching easier for broadband consumers who are switching physical networks. A previous attempt which seems to be history now is for broadband infrastructure operators to agree their own rules and implement a switching system, but now Ofcom is stepping into the breach when providers and others deemed it too difficult.
For the majority of the public, switching between the providers who sell ADSL/ADSL2+ and VDSL2/FTTC has been very simple for some years, you just need to contact the provider who has the most attractive deal in terms of price/reliability/customer service and they contacted your old provider. To avoid slamming the old provider is meant to send you a letter/email to warn you of an impending move and in the 10 day waiting period you can tell them you don't want the move to go ahead and thus a stop order is issued.
While switching from ADSL to and from cable has been happening since 2000 nothing has ever been formalised and the general advice is to wait to give notice to the old provider once the new cable service is live or time the notice period so they overlap slightly. One catch is that if people are porting their phone number to the cable provider this will usually trigger cancellation of the ADSL/VDSL2 service. For the last couple of years as more FTTP has been rolled out things have got more complex due to the number of permutations that now exist.
Ofcom is therefore proposing that switching between physical networks follow essentially the same gaining led process as millions of people are already using. This is set to come into force in December 2022 (yes over two years away) after further industry consultation and an implementation period for the final agreed processes.
There seems to be a few tweaks that should help improve things on top of the exisitng migration system.
- Old service should remain running until the gaining provider has communicated that the service is live
- Notice charges to end i.e. people will only pay for days of service they receive
- Telephone numbers to be held for 30 days if not ported, so that the public can recover orphaned numbers. This is needed as some FTTP services don't do a digital voice service and the public will need time to port the number to a VoIP provider if they want to retain it.
- In situations where a new service does not go live on the correct date, the new and old providers should identify who is at fault and payout the appropriate compensation
The complexity arises due to the vast number of FTTP and fixed wireless operators in the market, the existing migration process has the advantage that it is Openreach under pinning it all so they have some visibility of connectivity on the lines. Even then it is not always plain sailing as some people have reported instances of old providers not being informed, or the correct migration path skipped and cease/provides used instead.
We suspect that the majority of activity that these changes will cover in the 2023/2024 period when the new rules are active will be people leaving a DSL or cable based network and moving to the sole FTTP operators in their area. There may be a small number who have a choice of multiple FTTP operators, in 2020 this is usually new build homes/flats but as CityFibre increase their footprint there will be an increasing overlap with the Openreach FTTP network and possibly other alt networks.
The longer term question is around how much retail competition will there be on the numerous FTTP networks after 2025 and how many millions of people will have just one retailer choice and how Ofcom is going to ensure a decent quality of service and avoid price gouging. For those doubting this sort of worry, we suggest talking to those who live in a over utlised Virgin Media cable area where the only other option is ADSL2+.
It is possible of course that if FTTP delivers everything promised that the first switch to FTTP will be the last provider switch many people make for many years.