In recent years, waiting for improvements in our laws and regulations has become something of a national pastime.
For a country raised on orderly queuing, it’s unsurprising that we’ve accepted record NHS waiting times and the endless complexities of Brexit negotiations with relatively good grace.
However, some delays have been harder to justify than others.
In 2021, telecommunications industry regulator Ofcom announced it was planning to introduce a system of one touch switching for domestic broadband customers.
This would mean an end to the triangular negotiations between consumers, outgoing and incoming ISPs, which have persuaded many people to remain on relatively unfavourable contracts.
Instead, consumers would only have to speak to a new provider about switching their broadband account.
The new provider would inform the old one and manage the changeover, even across otherwise incompatible networks (FTTC to full fibre, proprietary fibre network to Openreach, etc.)
That represents a big improvement over the existing system, which is mainly geared around Openreach connections and can take up to ten working days to process.
If you’re moving between an Openreach-hosted broadband account and a full fibre network (Grain, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, etc.), one touch switching simply isn’t available.
Back in 2021, Ofcom set a seemingly reasonable deadline of the 3rd of April 2023, by which point UK ISPs had to be compliant with the new regulations.
Since we’re now into 2024 and the one touch switching policy has yet to be implemented, you can guess what happened, or what didn’t happen.
So is one touch switching going to happen, and what might it mean for domestic consumers?
The bad touch
Rather than directly manage its own policy, Ofcom stepped back after announcing the new one touch switching regulations.
This left the industry to self-determine how ISPs should interact with one another and handle customer switchovers, given their plethora of incompatible hardware, software and systems.
The industry subsequently founded a not-for-profit enterprise known as the One Touch Switching Company (TOTSCo), owned by its members and focused on resolving various technical challenges.
Needless to say, the complexities of ensuring any ISP can seamlessly migrate individual customers to any other ISP’s network proved more challenging than first imagined.
ISPs also expressed a variety of frustrations. Some hadn’t heard of the scheme, others feared it might be abused, while several bemoaned the lack of a standardised interface.
When last April’s deadline was missed, Ofcom engaged in some sabre-rattling, without setting a further deadline or providing much in the way of assistance.
In the meantime, TOTSCo managed to establish a standard specification which over 90 different ISPs and network suppliers have so far accepted.
TOTSCo estimates that the actual cost to an ISP of migrating a customer will be in the region of 30 pence, which is an insignificant sum compared to other expenses and revenue streams.
New year’s resolution
When it became evident that the April 2023 deadline wasn’t going to be met, TOTSCo suggested a test environment would be available by the autumn.
By last August, TOTSCo was confident enough to set a provisional date for introducing the one touch switching scheme – the 1st of January 2024.
Again, the date came and went with no implementation.
However, there was finally some good news before Christmas, with the announcement of a planned go-live date of the 14th of March.
After this date, ISPs will be expected to offer one touch switching to their customers – even broadband providers who didn’t exist when the scheme was first devised three years ago.
TOTSCo describe this date as striking “the right balance between the necessity to achieve a speedy and orderly OTS launch, and the effort and prioritisation across industry needed to deliver it.”
Ofcom have approved this date, and since last September, various ISPs have been conducting dry runs in a test environment.
It’s still possible further delays will arise, such as last-minute technical hitches.
However, it seems broadband consumers may soon be able to switch accounts with consistent levels of simplicity – regardless of who they’re signed up with or who they’re moving to.