Exclusive The move to bundled broadband and mobile packages has thrown the role of ISPA, the internet providers' trade association, into confusion, after it emerged that most Orange broadband customers are not protected by its code of practice.
After a broadband outage spanning several weeks, Register reader Max took his complaint to ISPA, which passed it back to Orange, which told him that because his internet service was a "free" addition to his mobile package, his complaint would not be handled using ISPA guidelines.
An email from the firm's compliance officer Alison Carter said: "As you have a converged service with Orange, i.e. a pay monthly mobile contract and a free/discounted broadband package, your complaint will be dealt with by Orange Mobile; they will contact you as soon as possible. As Orange Mobile are not members of ISPA your complaint will not be handled using ISPA guidelines; we have informed ISPA of this."
ISPA's code of practice covers issues like data protection, honesty, and complaints procedures. Failure to meet the code can result in ISPs losing their accreditation.
In a statement, Orange told The Register: "Orange provides its converged customers with access to a free and independent alternative dispute resolution service via CISAS, an Ofcom approved service. Orange is also a member of ISPA and all of our customers have access to alternative dispute resolution services under Orange's Code of Practice for Consumers."
CISAS is an independent dispute arbitrator for communications firms. Its procedures allow 12 weeks from the date the complaint was made before it will get involved.
Orange says its procedures allow the operator three months to deal with complaints internally before they are eligible for independent consideration, the maximum allowed by CICAS. Orange's email to Max confirmed: "If your complaint reaches a deadlock situation or has not been resolved after three months, you can refer the matter to CISAS."
ISPA encourages its members to get CICAS involved earlier in the process if the customer complains to the association repeatedly. ISPA will allow the ISP 10 working days for the ISP to resolve the complaint directly. An ISPA representative said: "If a customer complains to ISPA for a second time, ISPA contacts the ISP and requests that the customer be provided with a CISAS reference number - if the complaint cannot be resolved - so that they can escalate the case to independent adjudication. "
"ISPA supports the issuing of reference numbers by the ISP rather than making customers wait for three months. ISPA can effectively resolve complaints after 15 working days."
ISPA's spokesman said they were "working with Orange" to clarify the situation for consumers. He could not tell The Register how Orange could remain a member but not be subject to the ISPA code of practice, or provide details of the situation regarding the other large converged providers.
We contacted Virgin Media, who said all its broadband customers are covered by the ISPA code of practice, regardless of what other services they take. Sky, which provides "free" broadband to its TV customers on a similar basis to Orange's mobile subscribers, said all its broadband customers are protected by the ISPA code of practice. According to the ISPA member list, TalkTalk, another large provider of "free" broadband does not belong to the association.
The news of Orange's non-compliance with the industry standard code of practice will do little to build confidence from its users, who have endured a year of bodged LLU migrations and repeated lengthy outages. ®