The Problem with Migrations

Back in the early days of ADSL access to the Internet in the UK, migrating always used to be a pain, and invariably the end user ended up being without their broadband service for a period of time whilst the migration occurred as you waited for the old provider to disconnect you from their service and the new provider to connect – all of which was pretty ironic considering that both providers were just reselling the same product provided by BT Wholesale.

All of that was supposedly solved with the arrival of the Migration Authorisation Code introduced by Ofgem and BT initially as a voluntary process, but made compulsory from February 2007. The process is intended to smooth the transition resulting in a loss of service for at most a few hours. The process is supposed to go as follows:

  1. User obtains MAC code from old provider
  2. User gives MAC code to new provider when opening new account
  3. BT Wholesale make the switch
  4. Old provider closes old account

The whole idea is that the process is supposed to be simple for the consumer, but it doesn’t always work like that.

There are a number of issues with the system, often with obtaining the MAC in the first place, but twice in the last week I’ve come across issues with the process with two totally different providers.

The issue hasn’t been with the physical switches, both of which occurred without a problem, the issue has been with stage four of the process – in both cases the old providers have failed to pick up that the MAC code has been used, and have carried on trying to charge. In both cases the providers in question, O2 and PlusNet have said that the account should close automatically when the code is used, but in both cases they have quite happily carried on charging despite the connections having been swapped – in the case of O2 almost three months previously.

The problem seems to be a disconnect between the accounting systems and the physical systems. In the case of O2 I had already discovered that O2 didn’t bother to take most of the information that BT Wholesale provide to resellers – indeed it was one of the reasons I terminated the account. With my current connection from Zen Internet I can see all of the line status information from their customer portal, including details of the current line speed, dates and times the line speed changed and so on, and their helpdesk can see when the router was connected and when it was disconnecting. The O2 team had nothing, certainly not the BT Wholesale information, and not even basic connection information – the most they could see was that the router was currently connected – their suggested strategy was to watch the lights on the router to see whether the line was staying connected. The lack of information seems to follow through to their account system as well – whilst BT Wholesale have available details of MAC codes being used, it is incumbent on the provider to actually look at the information. When I phoned up about the account problem and spoke to someone in O2 billing, he all but admitted that they didn’t check anything like that and that I should have been advised to phone up and chase up the transfer after it had been made. The one consolation with the O2 problem is that whilst I had multiple phone calls, and a lot of time spent on hold trying to get to the right team to sort it out, they at least have a freephone number on which to call.

Today I found we had the same problem with the Church broadband account, which again we recently switched. The process went through smoothly, but PlusNet have failed to pick up on the change and are charging anyway. It is somewhat more of a pain to sort out as their billing system has already raised a direct debit instruction and they cannot retract it, but again the point remains that the PlusNet systems are not using the available information about the use of the MAC code, and it seems to be incumbent on the end user to chase up. The downside here is that PlusNet use an 0845 number, and with their high volume of calls at least two-thirds of the call was spent on hold.

Both O2 and PlusNet are large ISP’s, with generally good reputations, but both seem incapable of completing what should be a relatively straightforward task of transferring a user under the industry agreed process. Having been bounced around by both their customer service teams I am left wondering whether I’ve just hit bad luck, or whether everybody else has different expectations of good customer service. If that is the case I’m left wondering what one of the providers with poorly rated customer service would do!

The lesson from these cases of course is once you’ve completed a migration, always phone up your old provider and tell them, because it does seem that these two at least can’t really be bothered to check the BT Wholesale information themselves.

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