Technology

Ofcom targets phone and broadband switching 'slammers'

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Image caption Ofcom says many consumers lose their broadband connection for a week when they switch provider

Landline phone and internet providers which switch customers to their service without their consent - a process known as "slamming" - are being targeted by Ofcom.

The telecoms regulator says that an estimated 520,000 UK households were "slammed" last year.

It argues that all switches should be verified by a third party to prevent abuses.

The telecoms industry has expressed concern that this could add to costs.

Othersuggestions put forward by the regulatorinclude:

  • Making the new provider responsible for the switching process
  • Simplifying the process to make sure that consumers are not confused and do not have to contact different providers
  • Addressing technical problems which can cause the wrong lines to be switched
  • Tackling loss of service caused by a change of provider; Ofcom says one in five consumers lose their broadband connection for about a week when they switch

"Many people think that the current systems are too difficult and unreliable which is why we have made it one of our priorities to tackle this problem," said Ofcom's chief executive Ed Richards.

"Today's proposals are designed to make the process easier and safe from slamming."

'Cumbersome experience'

Campaign group Consumer Focus praised the regulator's proposals and urged it to consider similar measures for TV and mobile services.

"When you switch to a new supplier, it should be responsible for making the process quick and simple - the company losing the business has few incentives to do this," said Adam Scorer, its director of policy.

"When the new company handles the move it tends to bring down costs, limit disruption and encourage quick completion; all of which is good news for consumers."

The Internet Services Providers' Association, which represents the industry, said it also welcomed Ofcom's intervention. However, it added that it had reservations about some of the specific proposals.

"We do have some concerns about potential costs of a third-party verification process, and what could turn out to be a potentially cumbersome customer experience."

Ofcom says it will consult the industry, consumers and other interested groups on the proposals until 23 April and report back in the autumn.

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