Switching Providers

Why it might be a good idea

There are many reasons why people tend to stay with the same broadband provider year-in year-out.

It may simply be a case of ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’, you may be worried about the potential costs involved, or can’t be bothered going through all that hassle just to end up with a very similar service for a relatively similar price.

But you might be surprised. It’s worth using a comparison site like simplydigital.co.uk every so often to have a bit of a browse, especially at times such as Christmas and summer, when operators typically put out new offers and deals.

It’s also worth considering because new customers tend to be given great introductory packages that existing subscribers can’t take advantage of.

Sometimes, just contacting your provider with the threat of leaving them for a company that provides better value is enough for your current ISP to match their competitors’ deal – but you need to know what other offers are out there to be able to do this.

Finally, you may be finding that your needs have changed. Do you download more/less than you used to? Has the size of your household altered? Do you currently get all your media services from different providers and would prefer just the one bill? All good reasons to shop around, at least.

How to switch

Firstly, it’s worth remembering that the guidelines below should represent the maximum inconvenience you may have to endure.

An increasing number of broadband suppliers are striving to make things as easy as possible by handling everything for you from start to finish. Meaning that all you need to do is contact your new supplier and away you go. Check the details of the package/supplier you’re interested in.

Ofcom is hoping to standardise these procedures in 2015, making the whole process completely painless for the customer.

Nonetheless, you may find that at the moment you have to do some of the leg-work yourself, in which case here’s what to expect.

Regular (ADSL) broadband

If you get standard speed broadband through your BT phone line, the procedure is pretty simple and straightforward.

  • Check your current contract – it may cost you more than it will save you, depending on the time you have left with your provider.
  • Contact your current provider for an authorisation code or MAC (more on this later). Once issued, the MAC is valid for 30 days, giving you ample time to choose another supplier.
  • Use the postcode checker on simplydigital.co.uk to find out what services are available in your area.
  • Shop around, and choose your new operator. They will ask for your MAC when you agree to sign up, and will provide an estimated date for the switchover, and should send you any equipment you need such as a router.
  • When the day arrives, plug in the new router and you should be all set. It can take about ten days for speeds to stabilise, so don’t get too concerned if your broadband seems a bit unsettled at the start.
  • Check that your contract with your old provider has ended. Your new supplier should have taken care of this for you, but it’s always worth making sure for yourself.

Switching to or from Cable (Virgin)

  • If you’re switching from Virgin Media to another provider, you may need to have a telephone line installed if you don’t have one already. This will require an engineer’s visit and costs will vary depending on who your new provider will be.
  • If you’re switching to Virgin, but still want a BT phone line and number, then contact BT who will cancel all services on your current line apart from your phone number. Or contact your current provider if you no longer want a telephone line at all.

Switching to Fibre

  • If you’re getting superfast for the first time, an engineer’s visit will be required to set up your home telephone line for superfast capability, and to install a superfast modem. An engineer’s visit is also required if you’re getting Fibre-to-the-premises broadband.
  • If you already have a fibre connection, the process should be the same as with regular ADSL switchover.
  • You may still need a MAC, so contact your current provider.

LLU Broadband

  • Local Loop Unbundled broadband is when your provider has installed their own equipment into your local BT exchange to allow them to offer faster or cheaper internet.
  • This applies to non-BT companies such as Sky, TalkTalk and Plusnet, though it’s worth checking because it isn’t something done in every exchange.
  • Purchasing broadband from a LLU provider for the first time will require an engineer’s visit, as will going from a LLU supplier to BT. Some operators charge for this, others do not.
  • Going from one LLU to another is the same process as regular switchover. You’ll need a LLU MAC from your current provider.

What is a MAC?

MAC stands for Migration Authorisation Code, and is a unique identifier for a particular telephone line. It allows your new supplier to find your specific phone line, and it from your old provider to your new one.

It is comprised of 10-15 letters and numbers, and operators are legally obliged to send you a MAC within five working days of one being requested.

One MAC is valid for 30 days from issue.

The first MAC is free (though you may still have to buy yourself out of your contract), but if it expires then getting another one will incur a fee.

Will I lose my broadband service while the switch is ongoing?

It depends. Most of the time, you will experience just a few minutes of being offline as your new provider should offer you a convenient date and time for your switchover to take place.

If you are going to or from a LLU, you may have a bit more downtime as an engineer will have to do some work on your local exchange to get you up and running.

Similarly, if you are getting Fibre for the first time, an engineer will have to work on your property, meaning that you could be without internet for a bit longer.

If you are switching to Virgin Media then there should be no offline time at all, as your new service is not dependent on your telephone line.

What charges might I have to pay?

If you still have time left on your current contract, you may have to buy your way out of it. Contact your provider before you begin the switching process to see what charges, if any, you will incur by switching.

Taking out a new contract with a new provider may involve a set-up/activation fee, a one-off charge for your router/set-top box/delivery or possibly a charge for an engineer’s visit, particularly if you’re getting superfast for the first time, or need a phone-line fitted.

If you ask for a second MAC after the first one has expired, a small fee may be charged.

Remember that for every fixed-line service apart from Virgin Media Cable, line rental is still applicable.

Will I lose my current e-mail address?

If your e-mail address is tied to your broadband account (so joe@btinternet.com for example) then probably yes. Some providers allow you to keep your account open for a small monthly charge so it’s worth checking, but most don’t.

Otherwise, consider an e-mail account that is independent from your broadband supplier, then it doesn’t matter how many times you switch. Google’s Gmail and Microsoft Outlook are two examples of this.