Ofcom unveils broadband switching plans, but providers claim it's not so easy

‘One Touch Switch’ is great, but logistics are an issue for BT, while Virgin cites data protection worries


Switching broadband providers could be about to become a lot easier if proposals unveiled by Ofcom today are put into place.

But even as the plans were announced it's clear there are some providers in the industry that are unhappy with them – citing issues such as data protection and concerns it could lead to people being switched without their consent.

Ofcom hopes the scheme – dubbed "One Touch Switch" – will streamline the way people chop and change providers as new services are launched.

The draft proposal means all home broadband users – including cable and full fibre customers – will only have to contact their new provider to switch, with no need to speak to their current one before making the move. The regulator reckons that in some cases, consumers could switch providers in a day.

Outlining the proposition, Ofcom said: "People can already switch between providers on Openreach's copper network – such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk – by following a process where their new provider manages the switch.

"But for the first time, customers switching between different networks or technologies – for example, from a provider using the Openreach network to one using CityFibre's, or from Virgin Media to altnet Hyperoptic – will be covered by the simpler process."

In these cases and under current procedures, consumers would effectively have to project manage the switchover themselves coordinating contract end dates and start dates with different suppliers.

The move has been welcomed by consumer group Which?, which said it is "positive to see the regulator removing barriers that are preventing people switching providers and getting a better deal." It went on to say that the process "must now be implemented swiftly so that consumers can reap the benefits as soon as possible."

Snag is, Ofcom has given service providers until April 2023 to come up with a workable solution. Originally, the easy switching service was due to be introduced in December 2022 but concerns from a number of service providers – not least BT – appear to have convinced the regulator to delay the implementation of the scheme.

In its response to the consultation launched in February, BT said that while it backed the One Touch Switch option, it was "unrealistic to expect this all to be developed and delivered, and all testing and training completed, by December 2022" [PDF].

It also said that there weren't sufficient checks and balances contained in the plans to minimise the risk of "slamming" – a process that switches customers to a new service without their consent.

Indie network builder CityFibre also welcomed the proposal. In its consultation response, it said: "As a builder of fibre networks, and a promoter of competition, we think it is imperative that customers are able to migrate seamlessly between competing broadband providers" [PDF].

But Virgin Media was unhappy with the proposals, preferring a more involved switching process. In its response, it urged Ofcom to "reconsider its preferred approach," warning that it opened up issues around slamming and data protection [PDF].

The regulator acknowledged that the introduction of One Touch Switch would "involve making significant changes to their [service providers'] systems and will require a wide range of companies to work together."

A spokesperson for Ofcom told us: "These are important new rules and we have made it clear to the industry that work must start immediately to meet the deadline. We'll be monitoring companies to ensure their systems will be ready for the start date. If they don't, we'll step in and take action." ®

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