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Switching LLU ISPs to be made easier

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A new system is due to be introduced by the end of June that should make it easier for broadband users to switch providers.

The system, currently under trial by BT, is part of an automated process called the "Equivalence Management Platform" (EMP) and should help speed up migration from local loop unbundling (LLU) operators back to BT's wholesale end-to-end IPStream product, which is commonly resold by ISPs.

At the moment, broadband users who subscribe to an LLU provider such as Bulldog, or have been migrated to an LLU platform by their ISP, are finding it tricky to switch ISPs because the existing process is complex and cumbersome. Even if the "cease and reprovide" needed to move from an LLU provider back to IPStream works flawlessly, it can take at least 10 days to switch providers. Typically, it takes longer.

However, once the new EMP system is up and running that delay should be reduced to just a couple of days. While an improvement on today's poor performance, it's still miles away from the MAC system which enables punters to switch ISPs (reselling IPStream) with just a few minutes downtime. Well, that's the theory.

News of the EMP system comes as El Reg has received a number of emails from broadband customers who've tried to switch providers only to be told they have been shunted to a LLU platform.

One told us: "ISPs are stopping users from migrating without an expensive cease-and-reprovide and anywhere up to two weeks offline."

Another said that their only option to move ISPs was to "cancel their ADSL connection".

Plusnet is one ISP that is migrating some of its punters onto unbundled exchanges, following a deal with Tiscali. But the ISP accepts that until the new EMP system is in place, switching ISPs is not a hassle-free process.

"We face the same issue as all other ISPs using LLU in that BT Wholesale does not have fully automated systems for migrating customers who want to leave the service," a Plusnet spokesman told us. "We are working with our LLU supplier (Tiscali) to push Ofcom and BT Wholesale to deliver a fit-for-purpose solution.

"In the meantime we are participating in a trial which synchronises a cease and a re-provide so customers who do want to leave shouldn't see more than a couple of days without service."

Earlier this month Ofcom began a major piece of work to assess the effectiveness of processes which enable consumers to sign up to, and switch between, broadband providers.

With broadband numbers currently growing by around 80,000 a week and competition delivering higher speeds, cheaper prices, and new services such as VoIP and IPTV, Ofcom wants to ensure that customers benefit from an active market.

"Current migration systems - using established industry procedures - have evolved to meet the needs of a relatively young market," the market regulator said.

"However, as competition - and switching - grows, it is important to ensure that transfer processes are sufficiently robust to support the increased complexity and mass-market scale associated with next-generation broadband access, particularly over unbundled local loops.

"Ofcom will therefore seek to build on work already underway to assess current migration processes, and will consider whether those existing systems are sufficient to meet the future needs of consumers and industry," it said. ®

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