Ofcom has today decided to adopt the new ‘One Touch Switch‘ (OTS) process for customers of fixed line phone and broadband ISPs, which will make it easier for you to switch between providers on physically separate networks (e.g. Openreach’s full fibre to CityFibre or Virgin Media etc.). But you’ll have to wait until April 2023 to use it!
At present migrating between ISPs on Openreach’s (BT) national infrastructure is an easy and largely automated Gaining Provider Led (GPL) process (i.e. just contact your new ISP, and they’ll get the ball rolling). But it’s often a different story if you need to change between providers on a physically separate network (e.g. Openreach FTTP to Cityfibre, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media etc.).NOTE: Ofcom found that 41% who decide against switching are put off by the hassle of having to contact more than one provider, while 43% are put off switching as they think it will be too time-consuming. And of those who do switch, 24% who contact their current ISP face “unwanted attempts” to persuade them to stay.
Sadly, customers who want to switch between such separate networks often have to take the manual cancellation route (i.e. order the new service and then contact your old ISP to cancel), which can result in longer periods of downtime (perfect coordination is difficult) and greater uncertainty for consumers. Customers can also find themselves stuck paying for two services at once, even if only one is usable, but this rarely lasts long.
The rapid increase in alternative networks (Summary of UK Full Fibre Builds) is only going to make this situation much more problematic. Ofcom has thus spent the past few years working with the industry to develop a new One Touch Switch process.
The One Touch Switch Process
In simple terms, the new process essentially extends GPL to include other networks, while adding some additional protections. Ofcom states that any “loss of service” that might occur during a switch must NOT be allowed to exceed 1 working day (“if technically possible“) and providers will be expected to compensate customers if things go wrong.
Meanwhile, the losing provider will be required to continue to supply the end-user on the same terms, until the new service is activated by the gaining provider, and to automatically terminate end-users’ contracts upon conclusion of the switching process. The losing ISP will also be required to reactivate the phone number and all related services where a switching process fails, and until the port is successful.
In terms of number porting (phone services), the regulator will also be making some “limited” changes, which includes giving customers the “right to port their number for one month after they have terminated their contract and a prohibition on charging customers to port their number.” This should be a big help as at present it can be quite tedious to get your number back if it’s lost during a switch.
We should add that the OTS process itself does not currently specify porting arrangements, but Ofcom does expect “further development in relation to number porting” and that “there may be a need for the Hub to include a communications channel” to help facilitate all of it. But regardless, providers will still need to comply with all of these new rules by the same date (3rd April 2023).
Finally, Ofcom has also banned notice period charges beyond the switch date for residential customers, which should hopefully prevent situations where a customer ends up having to pay for two services at the same time. A detailed summary of how all of this will work can be found below.
One Touch Switch Process (Detailed)
The new system marks a significant change, particularly for the new generation of alternative network providers (until now many of them won’t have had to deal with complicated consumer regulatory measures). In recognition of that Ofcom has given the market until 3rd April 2023 to implement the system, which is even further back than the previously proposed date of December 2022.
We should point out that this new process is for residential customers only, which Ofcom states is because “business and residential customers can sometimes have different needs when switching and that there is diversity among business which means it may not be appropriate to specify certain rules that would apply to all business customers in the same way as to residential customers.”
Ofcom also provided some information on the cost (to ISPs) of implementing this new system. The impact of this across the retail telephone and broadband markets in aggregate would, says the regulator, be £0.03 per month per customer or less, which they said is “very small when compared to the typical bill for landline and broadband services of a UK household (c.£41 per month).“
Separately, the regulator will also improve the information that providers must give to customers who are considering switching their mobile service. Your existing operator will now need to tell you about the impact of the switch on other services you have with the provider (e.g. any bundled services or specific services for disabled customers), which will help customers to understand the implications of switching.
A final consultation on the new switching process is now being conducted, which will remain open until 9th November 2021. Ofcom then plans to publish a final statement confirming changes to their General Conditions (rules) in early 2022, but we aren’t expecting any major changes to the new process to arise by then.
The first comment from a major ISP has just come in.
A comment from urban focused full fibre builder and UK ISP Hyperoptic.
Zen Internet has added a comment too.