Changing Broadband Provider

Fed up with your ISP (Internet Service Provider)?

Fed up face superimposed on globeIf you are not happy with the service or the deal that you are getting from your broadband provider (your ISP) then you may wish to change to a new one but not know how to go about it. In principle this is not difficult. Unless you are changing from a connection via a telephone line to a cable connection then there’s no change of wiring or hardware required. The only changes that need to be made to your equipment are software settings in your router/modem.

When the internet started it could be difficult to change providers as the company you were leaving could make it very difficult for you to leave and you could then have a period of as long as a month between ISPs and, therefore, without an internet connection.

Clearly, this was very bad for the user and “consumer choice” and very bad for the smooth running of a free, competitive market. As a result, OFCOM (the Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) established the Migrations Authorisation Code (MAC) Broadband Migrations Process.

The main aspect of this process (and your ISP must conform to it) is that changing ISP is now – in theory – much simpler than before and there is no hiatus between connections. In practice, you may have just a few minutes without a connection and the router settings may need to be updated manually.

It works like this:

  • Contact your existing provider and “request a MAC”. They may insist that only the account holder can do this and that contact must be by a specific method (eg phone, in writing).
  • They are obliged to provide you with a MAC within 5 working days.
  • Contact your new ISP, establish a new contract with them and give them the MAC provided by your old supplier. If you do not “use” the MAC within 30 days of its issue (ie if you do not move to a new supplier in that time) then the code “lapses” and your previous service continues. You can ask your old ISP for a new code if you still wish to move away from them. You do not have to pay anything for a MAC.
  • Your old and new providers then work out the actual transfer of your broadband provision between themselves. You will be informed by your new supplier when the changeover will take place.
  • When the changeover has taken place you may need to change the settings in your router. Your new ISP will advise of the settings. This is reasonably straightforward (if a bit geeky). It is one of the computer support services that I provide for my computer clients in London.

Note that your old supplier must provide you with the MAC even if you have an unexpired contract with them. You may, of course, be laying yourself open to charges for premature termination of contract but the point here is that the ISP can’t stop you from moving away to a new provider.

In theory, that’s all there is to it and my experience when using the process both for myself and when helping my computer clients is that it does usually work well. However, we all know that getting assistance and co-operation from the large ISPs can be very tortuous and difficult (and it’s quite possible that that’s the very reason you want to move away from them). I am in the middle of helping a client move from TalkTalk to Zen Internet. I logged into the client’s online TalkTalk account on their behalf on 19th December and submitted a request for a MAC via an online form. Nothing happened. No MAC. No acknowledgement of my submission. Silence (definite lack of “talk talk”).

I phoned them on January 4th and was told:

  • I can’t request a MAC via a website form – but they admitted that it didn’t tell me that on their website.
  • I can’t request a MAC on behalf of my client even though the client has given me all of their account details and authorised me to act on their behalf (a favourite trick of ISPs – hide behind vague references to “data protection”).
  • They can’t find any evidence of the form I submitted on 19th December.
  • Even if they’d found the form, it could take up to 28 days for them to acknowledge receipt of it. It’s somewhat ironic that this company is called “TalkTalk” and is in the comunication business!

Since they hadn’t told me that my request for a MAC via an online form would not be granted, and since they said it can take 28 days to even acknowledge receipt of an online form (assuming they haven’t “lost” it in the meantime), then it seems to me that they are in breach of the legal requirement to provide a MAC within 5 working days of it being requested. The supervisor of the original “adviser” that I spoke to acknowledged that “that would appear to be true”. He was either unwilling or unable to help me any further and insisted that the way to get the MAC would be for the account holder (and no-one else) to telephone TalkTalk (not send an email or complete an online form) and request it verbally.

TalkTalk’s main achievement during that (30 minute) conversation was to reassure me that I’d been giving my client sound computer advice in recommending that they move away from TalkTalk asap. I’ve been recommending Zen Internet for about 3 years now and continue to do so (I do earn a small introductory commission from them for introducing clients via this link).

(Last updated 07/09/2023)