UK ISPs ignore Ofcom’s deadline to implement simpler contract switching

Today was the deadline for UK broadband providers to make it easier for their customers to leave. But they haven’t.

Scott Bicheno

April 3, 2023

4 Min Read
UK ISPs ignore Ofcom’s deadline to implement simpler contract switching

Today was the deadline for UK broadband providers to make it easier for their customers to leave. But they haven’t.

Heralded as ‘One Touch Switch’ when UK comms regulator Ofcom announced it in September 2021, the new rules are intended to make the broadband market more competitive by removing as many impediments to switching suppliers as possible. Primarily that means removing the need to contact your existing supplier, at which point they are able present you with bureaucratic obstacles and pleading customer retention reps in the hope that you change your mind.

A year and a half later, it seems none of the ISPs have implemented the measures, prompting Ofcom to initiate an ‘enforcement programme’.

“Industry has had plenty of warning, plenty of time and plenty of support to get this done,” lamented Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection. “It’s extremely disappointing and frustrating, and providers have let their customers down. We take compliance with our rules very seriously, and have launched enforcement action to make sure companies get this up and running as quickly as possible.”

It sounds like the ISPs are in trouble, right? Well, decide for yourself how draconian the stated enforcement measure are. Ofcom will now:

  • Closely monitor the progress of providers;

  • Ensure that all developments required for implementation continue at pace; and

  • Make sure the OTS process is delivered is as quickly as possible to the standard agreed with industry.

How is that different from what it has been doing for the past 18 months? UK residential customers can already switch between providers that use Openreach as their wholesale provider, although we don’t know how long that has been the case. But if you want to move between wholesale providers – Virgin Media, CityFibre, etc – then nothing has changed. Nor is it likely to, if the above are the only consequences ISPs face for non-compliance.

In other toothless UK regulator news, the Competition and Markets Authority has been told by the Competition Appeal Tribunal that it can’t continue with its probe into the Apple/Google mobile phone platform duopoly. This is due to a technicality: that the CMA missed some legal deadline for proposing a market investigation.

According to the ruling the CMA had six months to propose the investigation after first publishing its Mobile ecosystems market study on 15 June 2021. It did announce some preliminary findings right on that deadline, but was still consulting on the launch of an investigation in June 2022 and apparently only got around to making a decision in November of last year.

“We are disappointed with today’s judgment,” said a CMA spokesperson. “We made this market investigation reference to make sure that UK consumers get a better choice of mobile internet services and that UK developers can invest in innovative new apps. Our concerns, and the reasons why we launched our market investigation, were not challenged by Apple.

“Today’s judgment has found there are material constraints on the CMA’s general ability to refer markets for in-depth investigations. This risks substantially undermining the CMA’s ability to efficiently and effectively investigate and intervene in markets where competition is not working well. Given the importance of today’s judgment, we will be considering our options including seeking permission to appeal.”

While it seems wrong that the CMA is prevented from ensuring a competitive market by some arbitrary time constraints, it was presumably aware of them from the start and dragged its feet nonetheless. We don’t know why it took the CMA over a year to act, although it seems to have felt constrained by the absence of any external calls for it to act in this case. Regardless, both of the issues covered in this story point to the UK regulatory system not being fit for purpose.


UPDATE – 13:00, 3/4/23: We received the following emailed statement from Mark Shurmer, MD of Regulatory Affairs at Openreach.

“We agree with Ofcom this is a really important issue. For a long time customers have been able to switch easily between service providers who use our network, so it’s only fair that customers who currently use other networks should be able to upgrade to our services just as simply and easily. We’ve been ready to implement the new policy for some time now, and we look forward to industry getting these changes implemented for the benefit of consumers and businesses throughout the UK.”


UPDATE – 17:00, 3/4/23:We received the following emailed statement from Till Sommer, Head of Policy at the ISPA.

“Our members have been engaging constructively with the One Touch Switch process and there continues to be a strong push to get One Touch Switch implemented as soon as possible.

“One Touch Switch is a very ambitious endeavour that involves significant IT transformation and coordination across hundreds of providers. This is not something that can be solved overnight. It’s a major change for the industry that needs to be working effectively for users from day one and the sector needs some more time to get this right.

“It’s important to note that customers wanting to switch service providers can do so as usual ahead of One Touch Switching being implemented as the new standard.”


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like