ISPs will be slapped with a fine of up to 10 percent of their turnover if they give you hassle when switching suppliers.

This article appears in the May 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

Broadband use in the UK has rocketed. Almost 75 percent of the 14.3 million households connected to the web have broadband, while fierce competition means consumers can choose from more than a dozen major suppliers.

Service levels aren't the same across the board, however. Each month, just under a quarter of a million consumers decide to switch from one ISP to another in search of the perfect service provider. And anyone who is a regular visitor to our online forums at will be no stranger to the fact that, until now, switching a broadband connection from one provider to another has often been a process that resulted in sane people wanting to hurl themselves from the nearest three-storey building.

It should be easy enough. Tell your current service provider you're moving on and request your MAC (migration authorisation code), the 17- or 18-digit code that uniquely identifies your phoneline. This code enables your new provider to turn on the service quickly.

Unfortunately, the voluntary system didn't work as well as it should. Increasing numbers of consumers complained of waiting weeks without internet access, or of being charged for the transfer. So, it was obvious that something had to be done.

Finally communications watchdog Ofcom has acted. In mid-February it became compulsory for ISPs to supply a MAC code within five days of a request. It will be illegal for a supplier to levy a charge for providing the MAC, for making the service switch or for delaying things because of any dispute with the other service provider – a common problem in the past. Breaching these conditions could land broadband suppliers with a fine of up to 10 percent of their turnover. Ouch.

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