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, 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 (www.BT.com) 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 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.
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 provider 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, the telecoms regulator, 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.
Read more about removing line tags
Video: Simple steps to switching broadband
Switching from ADSL to cable
Cable connections don't go through the BT exchanges, so you can't switch seamlessly from the likes of BT, TalkTalk, Sky, or Plusnet to Virgin Media (www.VirginMedia.com). 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.
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.
The exception to this is if you're not receiving the minimum speeds you ought to be getting. Read more about Ofcom's ruling on this to see if you qualify.
A new breed of provider has emerged in recent years 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 provider 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 provider 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.
Michael Phillips, managing director of broadbandchoices, 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."
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