Changing broadband provider

When TalkTalk launched its 'free broadband' deal in 2006, many thought the offer was too good to be true. When an overwhelming number of people signed up for the deal, TalkTalk simply couldn't cope with the volume and consequently its service suffered with many customers waiting months to complete their move. So is moving to a better broadband deal more trouble than it's worth?

The pros and cons of moving to a new deal

Moving to a new deal can present problems as the provider you are leaving will not want to lose your custom, while the broadband company you are moving to wants you to change as quickly as possible. Your current provider could employ retention strategies such as offering you a better deal to stay.

Nothing should deter you from moving however, if you are unhappy with the level of service you get from your existing provider. That's why has compiled this guide - to help you through the process of moving including understanding the small print, how to speak to your current broadband provider and what to do to make the change.

The lesson that can be learned from the TalkTalk issues is that it makes sense to consider all of the options available. Don't just jump on a great new deal, chances are if you're doing it, a lot of other people are doing it too and this can create problems. Instead look at all of the options and consider smaller broadband companies too, many of which include excellent customer service and 24hr helplines. Look at the complete broadband picture and not just the cheapest deal – find the offer that's right for you.

Price to pay

Where there's a silver lining, there is inevitably a cloud and indeed there are prices to pay, but with the savings that can be made in the long-term they shouldn't deter those who can afford the initial outlay.

Newcomers to the broadband market might have costs to pay - installing a BT phone line costs £120 and buying a broadband modem costs about £40. There are 'all-inclusive' deals, which will include the cost of installation and a free modem but that will generally mean signing up to a contract with a minimum contract period, meaning you agree to stay with that provider inside a set length of time and if you leave inside that time you have to pay a cancellation fee.

The most popular topics on our broadband forum come from users looking for advice on how they can change broadband provider. In response to this we've created an impartial guide with some advice on what to do when you are considering changing provider, what you might expect and how to go about doing it.

Why is changing provider difficult?

The reason why it's so difficult to change operates on many levels but it's mainly down to the nature of changing broadband provider itself. When you change broadband provider it can involve up to four different groups of people or companies, and each of these groups has its own interests in the change:

With so many competing interests it's not hard to see why changing broadband provider can be so difficult!

For this system to work more proficiently and to enable you to change provider without losing your broadband service, Ofcom, BT and the ISP industry have created a code of conduct called the MAC code of conduct.

Understanding the MAC code of conduct

A MAC (Migration Authorisation Code) is a 10 to 15 digit/letter code created to identify your broadband connection. A BT Wholesale system will generate the MAC for your existing provider. This is then passed to you and you in turn pass it on to your new provider who will then pass the MAC to a BT engineer. A BT engineer then uses the MAC to locate your broadband connection and switch it over or 'change the tag' (marker) on the line to the new provider.

As of February 14, 2007, the MAC code of conduct is mandatory for all providers. This means that all providers must adhere to the code's main principles:

1) If a customer asks for a MAC the provider must then issue the code within five working days of request, regardless of any dispute. The MAC is free the first time it is requested but a cancellation fee for the service may still apply- if asked for more than once it may incur a charge. Once issued, a MAC lasts 30 days before it becomes out of date and unusable.

2) Once a customer has passed their MAC to the provider they are switching to, the new provider must try to switch across their service within 30 days. The new supplier will inform the customer the exact date when they will be connected to the new service.

The aim of the MAC scheme is to reduce the number of customer complaints and reduce cost to BT, ISP's and the consumer also to make it easier to change provider.

These rule changes will help many people change providers more easily but it doesn't cover every possible situation that customers might face, for example LLU to LLU is still a fairly unresolved issue among providers. Indeed the rule changes do not resolve all the problems associated with getting a broadband service - but it's an important step in the right direction.

If you have a problem that you think cannot be resolved by the MAC scheme or the information in this guide, offers a unique service called 'Ask the Expert'.

You can send a message to our expert who will try to answer your broadband queries as soon as possible (normally within 24hrs).

If you are considering changing broadband provider then read our impartial guide below on how to make the change and avoid the pitfalls.

Be informed - compare products, read reviews and visit forums

Compare broadband products - Before you change broadband provider a good starting point is to become better informed about the market first. One of the most crucial factors in determining what broadband products you can get is your location. You can compare broadband products by inputting your postcode into a broadband comparison tool to see what is available in your location.

There is a wide range of comparison tools available in the market but we think our broadband comparison tool is one of the best because of its simplicity and the fact that it offers a wide range of the best deals: visit broadband comparison tool.

Visit online forums - Once you feel better informed about what products you can get and which ones you like the look of, the next step is to find out what other users think about your existing provider and the providers you are considering changing to.

We also have a broadband forum that is very popular with users.

Online forums are a great way to share experiences about providers but bear in mind that the majority of posters who visit are unhappy with their provider or want to find out how to change.

If you read a lot of negative things about a provider in an online forum don't assume that this is the service that you will get from them. Generally speaking though if there is a consistent trend, as in there are several people making the same kind of complaints about the same provider, then there is an increased chance you might experience those issues if you change to them.

Visit broadband forum

Read customer reviews - Customer reviews are an important tool for people who want to change their broadband provider because they are the views of existing customers. If you are considering changing provider, reading the customer reviews of a provider is a good way to become aware of how you might be treated as one of their customers.

Our customer reviews are unique in that they are 'near live' customer reviews of providers. The scores are calculated based on five key criteria:

Read the scores and experiences of several customers to get an impression of how you might be treated as one of their customers. This should help you make a more informed decision about the one you prefer.

If you are considering changing broadband provider then read our impartial guide below on how to make the change and avoid the pitfalls.

Read the small print of your broadband contract

By now you should feel more informed and empowered about the options available to you. The next step is to check your existing contract terms (or service warranty) carefully.

The most important things to check for are:

1) Are you free of your contractual obligations? Almost all broadband (or bundled) products have some form of contractual agreement that is usually over a minimum period. Twelve or 18 months are the two most common, however, some providers also offer deals with no minimum contract. These are slightly misleading because although technically they are without a minimum contract length, you will still have to pay some form of cancellation fee if you leave inside the first 12 months (which is a kind of contractual agreement anyway). Either way, if you are free of your contract obligations this means that you can leave your provider without penalty or charge. If not then you may be subject to a cancellation fee via their 'cancellation policy'.

2) What's the cancellation policy? One of the most common complaints from users on our forum is a provider chasing after a customer for cancellation fees or problems with billing. It will state quite clearly in the contract what the cancellation policy is. In most cases the cancellation policy is full payment of the monthly subscriptions left over from the remainder of the contract period (ie for an 18-month contract this can be a fairly big sum of money). Some operate a fixed charge for cancellation; others calculate a percentage of your monthly subscriptions over a set period as a cancellation fee. Above all else, make sure you understand the cancellation policy before you consider changing provider.

3) Work out the cost of cancellation against savings. If you're inside a minimum contract period you will have to pay a cancellation fee - however, it can often work out more cost effective to pay this fee in order to move to a more competitive broadband deal straightaway. Try to calculate the cost of cancellation (ie your cancellation fee) against any potential savings by changing provider (ie cheaper monthly subscriptions, money off line rental fees, free or cheaper call charges, etc) to decide if it's cheaper to change provider now, pay the cancellation fee and still save money.

4) Are there any hidden charges? Some providers have hidden charges - these can usually be found in your contract terms. Hidden charges come in various forms, for example the provider might request a fee to move your broadband connection to a new home, or ask you to pay a one-off charge for a speed upgrade. Worse still, some providers might ask for a monthly fee for a service that is free in the first year, or a payment to cover the free hardware they gave you to use their service. Some people argue that a 'free broadband' product by its very nature hides charges because it is impossible to get something for nothing. Be aware of hidden charges as they can hit you in the pocket and they can also help you decide whether it's worth changing provider.

5) Have they breached their service agreement? Several people want to change provider because they are not happy with the service. Check the section in your contract that relates to the service agreement (ie what they say they agree to deliver to you as a service). If you are unhappy with their service, you may find that they have breached their agreement in terms of what they said they would give you as a service. The most common breaches of service agreements are the length of time it takes to connect to the service, a problem with the speed of your connection, or an overall lack of service/customer support. If your current provider becomes difficult about letting you move on, or asks for a cancellation fee, you may be able to argue that since they have breached their service agreement you can leave without penalty or charge. NB: Only use this approach if you can argue convincingly that the provider has not delivered what was in the service agreement.

6) Find out where to get your MAC - Many consumers don't check beforehand where to obtain a MAC from their existing ISP so that when they do actually need one they're surprised to find they can't get it or don't know who to contact. If you can, find out what phone number to call at your ISP to obtain your MAC even if you don't need it straight away as it should speed up the process of changing in future. The following is a list of phone numbers for some ISPs you can call to request your MAC - but check with your existing provider to make sure it's the right number.

If you are considering changing broadband provider then read our impartial guide below on how to make the change and avoid the pitfalls.

Speak to your broadband provider

Ask for a better deal - One of the most important things to consider is that it's not always necessary to change provider to get a better deal.

Some of the best deals on the market are those offered by existing providers to stop you leaving. In the same way that mobile phone companies offer you better deals to stop you leaving, so too will your broadband provider.

Many broadband customers have not switched because they have been offered a better deal to stay with their existing provider or they are tied into an on old, uncompetitive deal.

It's important to speak to your existing provider and tell them you're considering changing provider - especially if you know you're on an uncompetitive deal or you've experienced poor customer service.

As you are better informed about the market and the small print of your contract you should feel in a confident position. They may offer you a new deal there and then. Consider what sort of new deal they have offered and decide whether you want to stay on with a better deal or change provider.

Be aware that if you decide to accept their new deal they will reset the minimum contract period as if you were a new customer (ie back to 12 or 18 months).

If you're not happy with the deal they have offered you, then you can turn it down and ask for your MAC (your existing provider now has to give it to you within five working days).

Cancellation teams - Once you have asked for your MAC you will often be put through to what is known as their retention or cancellation team. Its aim is to prevent you from changing provider. The team will have a wide range of tactics to do this such as offering you a better deal or explaining that they can't generate a MAC for technical reasons (this is in fact a lie - any ISP can generate a MAC irrespective of whether they're LLU or not).

When you get to this stage, be aware they will try everything they can to stop you from switching or giving you your MAC. If you've decided you want to change remain firm and ask for your MAC - be aware they cannot hold your MAC but it may take them a few days to give it to you.

If they don't give you your MAC within five working days then they are breaking the Ofcom regulation around changing provider.

Refer to the MAC code of conduct - In some cases your existing provider will tell you they cannot provide you with a MAC. This is more likely to happen when a customer is changing from one LLU provider to another.

It is a myth that LLU providers cannot issue a MAC to enable a customer to move to another LLU provider - it can be done by any broadband provider. It is more down to the fact that providers have not agreed a process by which they can send new customers to each other, or they don't have the systems in place to cope with it.

Refer to the MAC code of conduct and say that they are contravening the regulation and you will inform Ofcom about this regulatory breach. Depending on the provider and their policies it might persuade them to issue you with a MAC more smoothly.

Keep a record of everything - It sounds fairly obvious but make sure you keep a record of all correspondence with your ISP, as this can sometimes be useful if you're in dispute with them for whatever reason.

Keep a record of the calls that you made to customer services - who you spoke to and how long you had to wait. Check the call charges before you call customer service or technical support and keep your phone bills as a record of the total call charges.

This information might be crucial evidence if you want to cancel when you are still within your minimum contract period.

If you are considering changing broadband provider then read our impartial guide below on how to make the change and avoid the pitfalls.

Making the change

Pass on the MAC within 30 days - If you do manage to receive your MAC in time make sure you pass it on to your new provider within 30 days. A MAC will expire after 30 days and they become useless after that time period. If your MAC expires you need to get your existing provider to generate a brand new MAC if you want to switch - and they may charge you for it.

Keep a dialogue going with your ISP - The important thing to remember is that the ISP you are with has control of the broadband connection into your home. They can make it hard to switch to another provider if they want to, they can also terminate your existing broadband service so you don't have any until the new provider is on your phone line. You may not like them but it's always a good idea to keep a positive dialogue going with your existing provider, as it will make the process easier.

Try to be patient - Resolving technical problems or changing broadband provider can take time, this isn't something that can always be resolved quickly since most ISPs are reliant on BT engineers to make the necessary technical changes to fix problems or change between providers for their customers. Being patient will help; you will get the service you need eventually.

Do not try to get BT to speed up the process - they can't get you your broadband connection any faster. The provider you are changing too should be able to give you an estimated connection date; they are the ones who are responsible for delivering your new service so it's worth following up with them.

Dealing with a hostile provider - This is a situation where you're in dispute with your existing provider and it can be for various reasons. In most cases when a provider has become hostile it is more difficult to communicate with them (ie if you want to obtain your MAC to change provider they may make it more difficult for you to get it).

The best thing to do is be patient and understand the process of changing provider is difficult. If you try to be as friendly as possible to your existing provider it will make the process of changing easier.

Ultimately as the customer they know you have the right to change provider whenever you like - the system is in your favour, although you might have to pay a fee to change provider. However, if you treat them in a hostile manner they could be hostile to you.

It pays to work with rather than act against an existing provider, as they will be more helpful to you, which should speed up the process of changing.

Know your rights - If you cannot change provider it's worth understanding your rights as a consumer. The 1979 Sale of Goods Act is perhaps the most relevant piece of legislation in relation to broadband services.

It protects consumers by ensuring that:

If you buy something that doesn't meet any of the conditions stated above it's your right to demand your money back from the trader (ie the service supplier), not the manufacturer, wholesaler or importer.

Consumer Direct is a free service provided by the Government. They offer clear practical consumer advice via their website or over the phone: 08454 040506.

If you're sending in a written complaint or appeal against a provider it is always a good idea to send a copy of your complaint to the head of customer services at your supplier as well as the customer service contact.

If it gets to the stage where you need legal advice, Which? Legal Service offers a cost effective legal service for £12.75/quarter. It can give you good advice about consumer law so you know where you stand when you go back to your provider.

Ofcom & Otelo - If you are still having problems with your provider you can write an open letter to Otelo, the office of the telecommunications ombudsman. Otelo was set up to investigate complaints made by telecommunications customers, but Otelo's remit covers only 33% of the broadband market who have signed up to it.

The service is free for members of the public, but it will cost your supplier money to be investigated, so you will be taken more seriously if Otelo get involved. Please bear in mind that they will only start to take notice if several customers say the same thing as opposed to individual cases.

If your supplier isn't a member of Otelo, you can still write to Ofcom, the independent regulator for the UK, for help.

Only turn to BT as a last resort - If for whatever reason your ISP refuses to issue a MAC because they are hostile, (ie they don't respond to your requests any more) the last resort in these situations is to contact BT and ask them to disconnect your broadband connection and reconnect it with the new ISP you want to switch to.

This process will mean a complete loss of broadband for several weeks and it should only be used as a last resort but in some cases this can be the only way to switch broadband if you can't get the MAC.

The new MAC code regulation should prevent this from happening as providers are now bound by regulation to issue you with a MAC and change your broadband connection over within 30 days.

However, with problems around changing between LLU providers you might still have to turn to BT for help.

Contact us

We are here to help you as much as we can.

We offer an impartial broadband advisory service over the phone about how to change provider that is open 9-6pm Monday-Friday (except bank holidays):

Call us on 0800 298 5770 (calls are charged at a local rate).

You can ask our broadband expert any question about the broadband market, best deals or how to resolve any problems you might have with changing provider. Ask the Expert is available any time and we normally respond to your questions within 24hrs.

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