Ofcom eases broadband switch process and outlaws locked mobiles

Regulator plans to make it easier for UK broadband customers to transition between different networks, or a full-fibre service on the same network

Ofcom has announced plans to make it easier for customers to switch between broadband networks, in particular to upgrade to new fibre nets, and has also announced a ban on mobile firms selling “locked” phones.

Rolling out fibre-based broadband has been a hot political issue in the UK throughout 2019 and was central to the plans of all the leading political parties, particularly Labour, which had a radical plan to make fibre broadband available on a mass scale.

In explaining its action, Ofcom noted that whereas customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can already follow a simple process, with their new provider managing the switch, such a facility has not been available to customers moving to a different broadband network, such as CityFibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media.

The regulator said such customers need to contact both their existing and new providers to co-ordinate the switch and make sure there is no gap between the old service ending and the new one starting.

“Our research shows that more than four in 10 people are put off switching because they’re worried about arranging two different services to start and end at the right time,” Ofcom said in a statement. “More than a third of people are put off by having to speak to two different companies, and a similar proportion worry about having to pay their old and new provider at the same time.”

Under Ofcom’s proposals, switching would be made easier for all broadband customers, whether they are switching between different networks, or to a full-fibre service on the same network. Providers would also have to compensate customers if things go wrong and they are left without a service for more than one working day. The regulator is also proposing to ban notice-period charges beyond the switch date.

Looking at what the proposal could mean for the broadband provider, a CityFibre spokesperson told Computer Weekly: “We are encouraged by Ofcom announcing plans to make it easier for customers to choose to access our full fibre network.  Measures such as these will help the industry to become more competitive, supporting the rollout of full fibre networks by companies such as CityFibre as we look to reach the ambitious 2025 target the previous government set out. As CityFibre grows to become the UK’s third national digital infrastructure platform, we welcome all the support Ofcom is able to provide consumers in making it easier to switch their provider.”

In July 2019, Ofcom banned mobile providers from charging for notice periods running after the switch date and now it has also announced plans to prevent mobile phone companies from selling “locked” handsets. It noted that companies such as BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone have sold mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked. O2, Sky, Three and Virgin all sell unlocked devices to their customers.

A spokesperson for Three said: “We don’t believe there should be any barriers to switching mobile provider. That’s why we have supplied all our handsets unlocked at the point of sale since 2014.

“We welcome Ofcom’s preferred proposal to ensure that all operators sell unlocked handsets, ending a practice that three-quarters of consumers find unfair.

“However, there is no technical reason for a 12-month implementation period and we urge them to bring their timetable forward, so that consumers can benefit from simpler switching in 2020.”

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