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Ofcom investigates broadband switching delays

April 3, 2023

By Colin Mann

UK comms regulator Ofcom has opened an industry-wide enforcement programme regarding the failed implementation of a new broadband switching process, as industry misses the deadline for launching the new service.

New rules have come into force requiring landline and broadband providers to operate the ‘One Touch Switch’ process for residential customers.

After extensive consultation with industry, Ofcom announced these rules a year and a half ago to make broadband switching quicker, easier and more reliable for many customers.

People can already switch between providers on Openreach’s network – such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk – by following a process where their new provider manages the switch.

But Ofcom also wanted to make it easy for customers moving between different networks or technologies – for example, from a provider using the Openreach network to one using CityFibre’s, or from Virgin Media to Hyperoptic. Under the new process, these customers would only have to contact their new provider to switch.

The rules also mean providers must compensate customers if things go wrong with the switch and they are left without a service for more than one working day. And customers should not have to pay any notice-period charges beyond the switch date.

In addition, Ofcom’s reforms were intended to make it quicker to switch – just one day where technically possible – and ensure customers automatically receive important information from their current provider, including any early termination charges they may have to pay.

Ofcom has been closely monitoring industry’s progress in implementing the changes, and have been putting pressure on providers to meet their requirements by the April 3rd 2023 deadline. Unfortunately, the new process has not been introduced on time.

As a result, we have launched an industry-wide enforcement programme, following this failure to meet a regulatory deadline.

“Industry has had plenty of warning, plenty of time and plenty of support to get this done,” stated Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection. “It’s extremely disappointing and frustrating, and providers have let their customers down. We take compliance with our rules very seriously, and have launched enforcement action to make sure companies get this up and running as quickly as possible.”

It is the responsibility of all providers to make sure they comply with Ofcom’s rules, including any changes it make to them. As in other sectors, the broadband industry – which is made up of hundreds of companies – has trade associations that help keep providers up to date with regulatory developments.

The new simpler switching process was first discussed in 2019, when Ofcom said it would be making it easier to switch broadband provider as part of implementing a broad package of European consumer protection rules. Ofcom says it knew this would take time to implement, so it asked industry to start working together to develop this process straight away.

Later that year, it began publicly consulting on introducing the new switching rules in the UK. In February 2021, it consulted on different options – proposed by industry – for a detailed switching process for residential customers, before confirming its preferred approach as the ‘One Touch Switch’ option.

In September 2021, Ofcom published its final decision. Given this would involve companies making significant changes, the regulator set an extended implementation deadline of April 2023. Industry then established a company to help deliver the new process.

Despite extensive public consultation and engagement with industry over a number of years, providers have not met the deadline for launching the new service, and they are yet to give an indication of when they will be ready, claims Ofcom.

“We will continue to work with industry to make sure the new switching process is delivered as soon as possible,” it concludes.

Mark Shurmer, MD of Regulatory Affairs at Openreach said: “We agree with Ofcom this is a really important issue. For a long time customers have been able to switch easily between service providers who use our network, so it’s only fair that customers who currently use other networks should be able to upgrade to our services just as simply and easily. We’ve been ready to implement the new policy for some time now, and we look forward to industry getting these changes implemented for the benefit of consumers and businesses throughout the UK.”

Meanwhile, research from Vitrifi, a cloud-based software platform for fibre networks and alternative network providers (altnets), found that 39 per cent of UK telcos don’t know what One Touch Switching (OTS) is conceptually.

The research of telco decision makers sought to understand the industry’s readiness for the Ofcom one touch switching deadline. Of those surveyed, 80 per cent of telcos admitted to not being ready for the deadline and 39 per cent are currently not doing anything to prepare for the OTS requirement. The most common factors for not preparing were:

  • Their organisation relies too heavily on legacy systems – 28 per cent
  • Their organisation does not have the skills or technical capabilities – 18 per cent
  • The deadline will not be enforced – 12 per cent
  • The organisation does not have the funding or resources for it – 11 per cent
  • There are cultural barriers to overcome – 3 per cent

Of organisations preparing for the switch, 28 per cent are implementing a single technical solution to aid in the switch. Meanwhile, 52 per cent are implementing upwards of three services to aid in the move, increasing cost, complexity, and thus extending the lifecycle of internal systems. Composable solutions and services that unify multiple different functions are growing in telco, an industry where tech sprawl is an increasing problem. Despite less than 30 per cent implementing a composable solution, 47 per cent stated that a single integrated platform would assist their organisation in the move to OTS.

“The UK’s telco sector has been collectively trying to migrate off legacy OSS/BSS systems, but due to complexity, has been challenged with the network and cost economics of the changes required,” commented Richard Jeffares, CEO of Vitrifi. “With the arrival of substantial FTTP investment in the UK, we are about to hit a period of seismic change and OTS is a significant factor, helping to introduce more innovative product optionality that will greatly improve the wider UK broadband customer experience.”

“Vitrifi has acknowledged the importance of the OTS initiative and by implementing these new solutions now, our sector can move past historical legacy provisioning and service assurance methods, creating a flexible and agile toolset for fibre altnets and end customers in the future.”

“The market power on display and widespread adoption of the same underhand profiteering tactics by the Big Broadband providers has left the industry rotten at its core,” declared Tucker George, Rebel Internet CEO. “Broadband is broken, in more ways than one, so the news of Big Broadband companies doing their best to avoid letting their customers leave contracts and switch to a better alternative is not surprising, just disappointing.”

“Big Broadband trap customers in long-term contracts then maximise profits through annual above-inflation price hikes. Switching and the power of consumers to act in their own best interest is an existential threat to the Big Broadband providers. They will drag their feet until absolutely forced to comply. Their reluctance to support customers is just a further illustration why the UK needs a national challenger to the Big Broadband providers.”

“Big Broadband cares only for the profit and not for the people, that’s why new and existing Rebel customers pay the same, with no above-inflation price increases. We don’t do long-term contracts because we know customers will love our service.”

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