/ Technology

How easy is it to switch broadband provider?

Is your broadband connection meeting your needs? We’d like to hear your experiences of the switching process and how it could be improved.

Consumers across the UK have access to a wide range of broadband providers and an ever-expanding range of packages within the broadband market. As a result, it is important for consumers to engage with the market regularly to ensure that they have access to a broadband connection that meets their needs.

However, switching broadband provider often is perceived as a daunting task.

Which? plans to respond to Ofcom’s consultation on proposals to change the process that residential landline and broadband customers use to switch. If agreed, these changes will come into effect from December 2022.

We’d like to hear your experiences of the current switching process and how you think it could be improved to feed into our response to Ofcom.

Why should you switch?

Customers who don’t take out a new contract with their current provider, or shop around when their contract comes to an end, tend to end up paying more. Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, found that out of contract broadband customers pay about £4.70 more per month than their provider’s average price for their service.

We think that a key reason why consumers don’t seek out better broadband deals can be due to the complexity of the switching process itself. This can be a particular issue if you’re a customer trying to move to or from an Openreach provider e.g. BT or Sky to Virgin Media, or moving onto gigabit-capable networks.

In these cases, consumers generally have to coordinate the switch themselves by contacting both losing and gaining providers, arrange a suitable day and make sure that the dates of start and finish of the new service align (or risk losing their service for a few days).

What stops you from seeking a better broadband deal?
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Ofcom’s switching plans

To address this, Ofcom is looking at measures to make switching quicker, easier and more reliable. It believes that this will allow people to shop around with confidence to find the best price and service for their needs.

Last month, it published a consultation setting out its proposals for a new process that residential landline and broadband customers will use to switch from December 2022 regardless of their provider, the technology or the network they use.

Ofcom sets out two potential approaches in its consultation. 

Its preferred approach is a ‘One Touch Switch’ system. This new system would mean that customers would only need to contact their new provider, who would arrange and manage the switch on their behalf.

While the process already applies for consumers switching on the Openreach Network, such as BT and Sky customers, the new proposals will also cover consumers switching from different networks (like from Virgin Media to Openreach) as well as to or from full-fibre broadband services.

Code-to-switch

Ofcom also sets out a second option, which it is not minded to take forward. This is a code-to-switch system, whereby consumers will have to contact their losing provider for a switching code, then they will contact the new provider and give them the switching code.

This is similar to the current switching process in place for mobile.

We think that Ofcom’s preferred approach of ‘one touch switch’ is the right option to make the switching process as easy as possible for consumers.

This option is simpler as it removes the additional steps that people can sometimes face – only requiring them to contact the new provider – so it should be quicker and easier for people to switch. It will also remove the risk of losing your connection when switching.

Which of Ofcom’s options would you prefer to use to switch your broadband?
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Your switching experiences

We’d like to hear your experiences of the current switching process.

What was your experience when changing broadband provider? Have you experienced any delays, loss of service or just felt that the current system was too complex? Do you have any thoughts on Ofcom’s new proposals?

We plan to use your comments in our response to Ofcom’s consultation to help influence them to adopt this new process.

Comments

I pay £40 per month to Hyeroptic for 1Gbps (1000Mbps) downstream and upstream. I have to renegotiate the price every 12 months, last time on Black Friday when it was slightly cheaper than usual. No other ISP offers such speeds in my area, so switching is not an option. And I always get the advertised speed after allowing for overheads. Here’s a speed test result today: https://www.speedtest.net/my-result/d/10d648f7-7c85-416d-b9fa-cfc5019adcef

Peter Gordon Cresswell says:
10 March 2021

The only reason that I haven’t changed my broadband provider is that I don’t want to change my Email address.

@Peter – You should invest in a personal domain name like cresswell.co.uk (probably taken, but just for example). Make sure the domain provider offers “mail forwarding” for an inclusive or nominal fee. Even your current ISP may provide this service.

Then set up your email address, e.g. [firstname]@cresswell.co.uk and start to use it for important communications like family, friends, banks and utiilities. Once that has bedded in, you can easily switch your broadband provider, by transferring or redirecting your personal domain.

I started doing this maybe 20 years ago and switched ISP without changing any email addresses in the process. I’ve even taken out an @[myname].ca email address in anticipation of moving to Canada and losing @[myname].eu because of Brexit. So not only does it facilitate intra-country switching, but moving abroad too.

[Moderator: we’ve edited this comment to further anonymize the email address provided in the example given by the commenter. Please don’t include personal contact details such as email or physical addresses, as this is to protect peoples’ privacy. For more information see the Community guidelines]

I don’t understand why Ofcom is opening up for consultation a switching method [the code-to-switch process] that is slower, has more potential problems, and about which it has reservations, when a ‘one touch switch’ would “make switching quicker, easier and more reliable”. It might have also offered the option of ‘no change’ but has declined to do that so this is not a genuinely open consultation.

In the world of high speed broadband, why it should take Ofcom 21 months to change the switching process to one that is already in use for energy and mobile phone users beats me. Why ask consumers at all? None of the important decisions on telephony and connectivity have been subject to consumer consultation, and the low-speed roll-out of faster broadband shows how impervious Ofcom is to providing customer satisfaction.

alan says:
10 March 2021

I was with virgin for over 20yrs and always haggling for a better price as once i was out of contract i should have been allowed to take a new offer going.So this year i set up a gmail account for all my emails and then contacted plusnet for a broadband connection and gave virgin 30 days notice by phone and email.I bought a freeview recorder box to record programmes.Virgin sent me a bill for £120 which included a months rental in advance and a disconnection fee even though i was out of contract.After some phone calls this was dropped to £44 which is what i had calculated.With the price saving i can subscribe to Disney,Netflix,Britbox and still save money on what i was paying.

Alan, thanks for your post. Well done leaving Virgin – from posts here and elsewhere, I have seen that they try their best to make leaving very difficult.

I am out of contract with my broadband provider but when I last checked, a few months ago, I found I was not paying more than a new subscriber. I have proper fibre broadband and get the speed I pay for.

W G M Dickinson says:
10 March 2021

The thing that is holding me back from switching from BT is that I will loose my BT e-mail after some months. I have been using my current e-mail address for many years, so I just do not know how many people and organisations are holding it, and how difficult it will be to notify all these organisations and to get them to note my new e-mail address. It would be best if the e-mail address were portable, or that could be done for a small fee, which I would be happy to pay.

@WGMD – You should invest in a personal domain name like wgmd.co.uk (currently available). Make sure the domain provider offers “mail forwarding” for an inclusive or nominal fee. Even your current ISP may provide this service.

Then set up your email address, e.g. [name] @ wgmd.co.uk and start to use it for important communications like family, friends, banks and utiilities. Once that has bedded in, you can easily switch your broadband provider, by transferring or redirecting your personal domain.

I started doing this maybe 20 years ago and switched ISP without changing any email addresses in the process. I’ve even taken out an @[myname].ca email address in anticipation of moving to Canada and losing @[myname].eu because of Brexit. So not only does it facilitate intra-country switching, but moving abroad too.

I switched ISP providers from Eclipse/KCOM to Zen about 18 months ago. Both use the BT Openreach network to provide services to my home.

I contacted KCOM’s sales team before switching, but they couldn’t offer a cheaper tariff or even discount to reduce my monthly spend of about £50. I had been with them for about 20 years with a business service that had suffered some unreported service outages over the past year. I had been unable to contact their technical help desk on the final occasion.

So I told them there and then that I would be contacting Zen later that day. I spoke to a real person at Zen who assured me there was nothing further I had to do until the notified cutover date, other than to arrange for the transfer of some hosted domains from KCOM, which I also did that day.

Come switch-over day there were some technical issues. I contacted KCOM about this and they said “I hadn’t notified them”. Not my problem! The existing gainer-led switching process which Openreach operates for industry does not require the end customer [me] to approach its current provider as part of a switch. It is the “one stop shop” process described above.

The response was: “Well, Zen haven’t notified us.” Again, not exactly true. Zen notify the losing provider (they don’t need to know who it is), via the BT Openreach switching portal. It seems KCOM had failed to pick this up do to some “technical issue” at their end.

Once all the technical issues were sorted out, things became a little bizarre. KCOM said they required a month’s notice of contract termination. I refered to earlier calls to their sales desk and emails relating to domain transfers. This constituted “notice” as far as I was concerned, so they compromised on the remaining days being due.

After three month with Zen, I noticed that KCOM were still debiting me with their monthly fee. More phone calls, emails and threats of contacting the bank about misuse of the Direct Debit mandate, before they finally acknowledged it was their error and refunded the amounts taken without authority.

So yeah, ‘One Touch Switch’ already works. Not!

P.S. Zen have been great throughout the switching process and ever since. Always get to talk to a real person to sort things out.

In reality, there are too few providers BT, EE and Plusnet are all part of BT who happen to have control over the lines under Open Reach. Virgin is the only truly independent company with a much smaller network. All the other operators in the main are obliged to use the Open Reach network. The result is ever-increasing costs and now the big boys have been allowed to increase costs mid-contract with no get out. Ofcom needs to get its act together and start looking after the consumer more.

Really? The cost of a basic broadband service is less than the monthly subscription for a service like Sky Sports or BT Sport. If you are not streaming video, then you don’t need fibre broadband.

The reason Virgin have a much smaller network is because they cherry-pick areas with high housing density and low installation costs, which means higher profits for them.

BT Openreach have very high installation costs to reach some of the most isolated properties, so those users at least are getting an absolute bargain. In some cases, the breakeven point for BT is measured in decades.

And it will be a few years yet before BT Openreach recoup the cost of digging up the road, my driveway and installing extra manholes to joint and replace some corroded copper telephone wires dedicated to supplying my house. I did offer to pay for optical fibre to be laid at the same time, but that is not an option here yet.

Except on a few new developments, the Virgin Media network has not expanded much recently. It largely acquired its network by buying up the former cable TV companies that had installed cables in several urban areas. Cable TV was virtually wiped out by the rapid deployment of satellite broadcasting that did not require massive civil engineering and whole-street sign-up for its economic justification. Cable-delivered broadband is now commonplace so Virgin Media has been able to make good use of the infrastructure it bought in the early years of this century.

Richard Orr says:
11 March 2021

I decided to switch from Talktalk to Plusnet and set this up.. Talktalk offered to better Plusnet’s charges so I decided to stay with them and cancelled the switch. The end result was Plusnet correctly cancelling the switch but Talktalk didnt, leaving us with no phone/broadband for 9 days, and then TalkTalk insisting that I set up a new contract with them , including a new phone number which still causes problems. I would be reluctant to try switching again.

It is hard to switch because simply comparing the numbers and the policies is hard. Some cheaper providers use inferior Wifi Hubs, and some have the line speed but less bandwidth. By the time you connect all your devices you hardly get the speed promised. So each company always has an excuse to get out of giving you what you expected to receive.

Gill Turner says:
15 March 2021

I had an expensive contract with Virgin – my own fault for not swapping earlier. When I contacted them to say I wanted to leave they gave me a really hard time. The man kept saying I’m trying to stop you from making a mistake. I said I don’t want to have this conversation I just want you to acknowledge that I want to terminate the service. The call went on for at least ten minutes with the man repeating that I would be making a mistake and offering me better deals despite my reiterating that I didn’t want anything more to do with them. I found it really stressful. I had to give Virgin 30 days notice. In oder to ensure I didn’t lose my service at all I ended up paying for both Virgin and the new provider for a period of time. My contract ended on 16 October but Virgin took the payment for November even though payments are in advance so they already owed me for the rest of October. They said they would refund this but would do so by cheque. I eventually received a cheque in the middle of January. This is their policy. Why shouldn’t they have to refund immediately through your account as everybody else does?