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How to make switching broadband a smoother process

Your Money
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Your Money

Our guide explains the problems you may encounter and how to overcome them.

Switching broadband provider can get you faster internet, a better service and save you money – and most of the time it’s a smooth process…

But despite regulation from Ofcom – to allow seamless switching between copper wire ADSL providers – new technologies mean you could still encounter a problem or two.

Local loop unbundling

There are millions of local loop unbundled (LLU) broadband lines across the UK – and the number’s growing all the time.

It’s popular because once providers have installed their own equipment in the local telephone exchange, they no longer have to pay BT for access to the network and can pass these savings on to you!

However, the different type of technology used in LLU connections means there can be problems if you want to switch back to the BT network, and back to a standard ADSL provider. There’s a good chance you won’t get the same seamless switch that you would from using a MAC code (which you can request from your provider) between two ADSL providers.

If you have to cut off your LLU broadband and then have an ADSL line reconnected, you might have to pay a cease and re-provide fee of up to £60.

If your entire line was unbundled – with both broadband and telephone from an LLU provider – you might also have to pay to be returned to the BT network.

BT now offers free line installation if you take a broadband and calls package – or a “triple play” package including YouView digital TV from BT. Customers taking only home telephone with their BT line rental pay around £30 for line installation.

But if you live in a new-build home, with no phone line whatsoever, you might have to pay up to £130, depending on how much work needs to be done.

In a few rare cases, customers have even found themselves being charged by two different providers, after they followed the wrong process and their old contract wasn’t properly cancelled.

Unfortunately, although Ofcom has tried to make the switching process easier, it is still difficult to get the correct information on how to switch provider, so make sure you do your research before signing-up.


ISPs dragging their heels

Although it is now compulsory for ADSL providers to release MAC codes – allowing you to switch to another ADSL provider without a break in your service – some ISPs have been accused of dragging their heels in an attempt to keep hold of customers.

Your broadband provider cannot withhold a MAC code for the purpose of debt collection, or because your contract hasn’t expired. However, if you are still bound by a contract you’ll have to complete your payments or pay an exit fee.

Your provider has to issue your MAC code within five days of your request but if you’re having trouble getting hold of it, don’t give up. Ask to speak to a manager and inform them that you’re going to write to Ofcom copying them into the letter.

You do not need a MAC code when transferring to or from a cable service.

Tagged phone lines

As increasing numbers of people switch provider in search of newer, better deals, some lines have been left with a “tag” or “marker”. This happens when a previous ISP hasn’t been fully removed from the line and prevents a new connection from being set-up.

Despite ongoing efforts from BT, line tags continue to be an occasional problem.

Ofcom advises that customers with “tagged” lines should contact the ISP that they’re switching to. Your “gaining” provider will be best placed to liaise with BT to have the tag removed.

Switching from ADSL to cable

Cable connections don’t go through the BT exchanges, so MAC codes won’t work if you want to switch from an ADSL provider to Virgin Media.

This means you’ll have to be disconnected from your current provider and a Virgin Media engineer will come to your home to set-up your cable internet connection. You might have to pay an installation fee for this.
Switching from cable to ADSL

If you want to switch the other way – from Virgin Media to an ADSL provider – but no longer have a BT line for your ADSL connection, you might have to pay to have your new line installed.


Very occasionally, an ISP might move your connection to a partner company without your authorisation, or change your connection to an LLU line. This is known as “slamming” and is heavily frowned upon by consumer groups. While providers will notify you in writing, you will have to specify that you don’t want them to do this or they will “assume” they have your approval – and you could have problems leaving the service again.

So make sure you thoroughly read all correspondence from your provider. Never simply ignore letters from any service provider you’re bound by contract to keep paying each month.

Exit fees

Even if you’ve currently got a no contract broadband connection, you could still be faced with a cancellation fee for leaving the service within the first 12 months.

This is to recover the provider’s cost of connecting you in the first place and varies from one company to the next. Migrating customers is cheaper than setting-up completely new connections so your exit fee might also be higher if you were completely new to broadband when you signed-up.

However, any exit fee you might face will be usually be much less than you would have to pay if you had signed a 12-month contract and wanted to leave early, as you would then have to see out the remainder of your monthly payments.

Service problems

A new breed of provider has emerged in recent years, like O2, who will assess your broadband service for two weeks following your connection, to see if you’re getting the kind of speeds you should expect for the package you’re on. They will then happily move you onto a cheaper, more appropriate plan if it turns out you’re not.

However, some people still experience problems with the speed and reliability of their broadband connections, and once you’ve signed a 12-month contract, you might find it difficult to resolve your complaints.

If you do experience problems, you should first get in touch with your new ISP and relay your concerns to them. If the issue isn’t resolved within three months, you can then take your complaint to industry regulator Ofcom.

If you think your ISP has breached contractual agreements on service, you might be able to terminate your contract without paying a cancellation fee. Try the Which? Legal Service for legal advice, or contact us to see if we’re able to help.

Don’t be put off

While you should be aware of these issues, you shouldn’t let them deter you from switching broadband provider. The vast majority of people have a quick and seamless switchover, saving money and getting a much better service in the process.

Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk, says: “Switching broadband provider can potentially get you a faster internet connection, better service and it can even save you money. And if consumers shop around, it needn’t mean entering into a punitive long-term contract.”