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Switching headache as ISPs offer conflicting advice today reveals the results of an undercover customer service research project.

An alarming 46 per cent of call centre operators gave the wrong advice when asked how to switch to and from full Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) broadband providers - which in some cases can result in customers being charged by both their old and new provider.

Ofcom advises customers looking to switch supplier to “contact their gaining provider who should be able to talk consumers through the process in terms of what they need to do to switch”.

A spokeswoman for the regulator said: “Communications providers (both losing and gaining) are well placed in terms of providing accurate and reliable information to consumers, and it is worth pointing out that regulation includes requirements relating to the provision of such information.”

However, Michael Phillips, product director at explains: “As innovations in technology emerge in the broadband market, the switching process is becoming more complicated. Ofcom now cites seven different processes and needs to clarify the procedures regarding switching to ensure that customers receive accurate switching advice from ISP call centres.”

Issues surrounding the use of Migration Authorisation Codes (MAC) also proved inconsistent in the research.

Phillips says: “This is ironic as MAC codes were introduced by Ofcom to ease the issues surrounding migration. Clearly we can’t rely on ISPs to inform consumers on the best process to follow when switching.”

Mrs Farren, a TalkTalk customer explained her recent experience with switching, having decided to move her broadband and telephone account from a Virgin Media ADSL connection to TalkTalk LLU.

To complete the process she obtained a MAC Code from Virgin Media ADSL. Mrs Farren gave the code to TalkTalk and the migration went smoothly.

However, Mrs Farren continued to receive bills from Virgin Media ADSL, who directed the blame at TalkTalk and recommended she take it up with Ofcom.

It later emerged that her account with Virgin Media ADSL had remained active because, in line with its standard practice, TalkTalk had not used the MAC Code - which had since expired, leaving Virgin Media ADSL still issuing bills.

Mrs Farren said: “Ofcom has given us complete lack of clarity as to who is to blame in this matter. While I appreciate that Ofcom cannot become embroiled in individual cases, I find it incredible that two large ISPs cannot agree who should take responsibility for this incident.”

Phillips says: “As well as improving the information available on how to switch, Ofcom must offer clear advice on what action consumers should take if they find themselves in a similar situation.

In the meantime, I would advise customers to communicate with their previous provider clearly in writing, once they are live with their new provider, to ensure they will no longer be paying for this service.”

“While the LLU MAC code system is being trialled for partial LLU connections where only the broadband is provided by an unbundled line, ISP’s are under no obligation to accept the codes and many customers have been forced to foot the ‘cease and re-provide’ cost of moving to a new provider, which currently stands at £58.75.”

Phillips concludes: “LLU uses a different type of technology to traditional ADSL connections and customers could face a break in their broadband service for weeks at a time. If both their broadband and home phone have been moved to an unbundled network they may even have to pay BT £124.99 to have their phone line reconnected.”

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.