Fed up with your ISP (Internet Service Provider)?

Fed up face superimposed on globeIf you are not happy with the service or the deal that you are getting from your broadband provider (your ISP) then you may wish to change to a new one but not know how to go about it. In principle this is not difficult. Unless you are changing from a connection via a telephone line to a cable connection then there’s no change of wiring or hardware required. The only changes that need to be made to your equipment are software settings in your router/modem.

When the internet started it could be difficult to change providers as the company you were leaving could make it very difficult for you to leave and you could then have a period of as long as a month between ISPs and, therefore, without an internet connection.

Clearly, this was very bad for the user and “consumer choice” and very bad for the smooth running of a free, competitive market. As a result, OFCOM (the Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) established the Migrations Authorisation Code (MAC) Broadband Migrations Process.

The main aspect of this process (and your ISP must conform to it) is that changing ISP is now – in theory – much simpler than before and there is no hiatus between connections. In practice, you may have just a few minutes without a connection and the router settings may need to be updated manually.

It works like this:

  • Contact your existing provider and “request a MAC”. They may insist that only the account holder can do this and that contact must be by a specific method (eg phone, in writing).
  • They are obliged to provide you with a MAC within 5 working days.
  • Contact your new ISP, establish a new contract with them and give them the MAC provided by your old supplier. If you do not “use” the MAC within 30 days of its issue (ie if you do not move to a new supplier in that time) then the code “lapses” and your previous service continues. You can ask your old ISP for a new code if you still wish to move away from them. You do not have to pay anything for a MAC.
  • Your old and new providers then work out the actual transfer of your broadband provision between themselves. You will be informed by your new supplier when the changeover will take place.
  • When the changeover has taken place you may need to change the settings in your router. Your new ISP will advise of the settings. This is reasonably straightforward (if a bit geeky). It is one of the computer support services that I provide for my computer clients in London.

Note that your old supplier must provide you with the MAC even if you have an unexpired contract with them. You may, of course, be laying yourself open to charges for premature termination of contract but the point here is that the ISP can’t stop you from moving away to a new provider.

In theory, that’s all there is to it and my experience when using the process both for myself and when helping my computer clients is that it does usually work well. However, we all know that getting assistance and co-operation from the large ISPs can be very tortuous and difficult (and it’s quite possible that that’s the very reason you want to move away from them). I am in the middle of helping a client move from TalkTalk to Zen Internet. I logged into the client’s online TalkTalk account on their behalf on 19th December and submitted a request for a MAC via an online form. Nothing happened. No MAC. No acknowledgement of my submission. Silence (definite lack of “talk talk”).

I phoned them on January 4th and was told:

  • I can’t request a MAC via a website form – but they admitted that it didn’t tell me that on their website.
  • I can’t request a MAC on behalf of my client even though the client has given me all of their account details and authorised me to act on their behalf (a favourite trick of ISPs – hide behind vague references to “data protection”).
  • They can’t find any evidence of the form I submitted on 19th December.
  • Even if they’d found the form, it could take up to 28 days for them to acknowledge receipt of it. It’s somewhat ironic that this company is called “TalkTalk” and is in the comunication business!

Since they hadn’t told me that my request for a MAC via an online form would not be granted, and since they said it can take 28 days to even acknowledge receipt of an online form (assuming they haven’t “lost” it in the meantime), then it seems to me that they are in breach of the legal requirement to provide a MAC within 5 working days of it being requested. The supervisor of the original “adviser” that I spoke to acknowledged that “that would appear to be true”. He was either unwilling or unable to help me any further and insisted that the way to get the MAC would be for the account holder (and no-one else) to telephone TalkTalk (not send an email or complete an online form) and request it verbally.

TalkTalk’s main achievement during that (30 minute) conversation was to reassure me that I’d been giving my client sound computer advice in recommending that they move away from TalkTalk asap. I’ve been recommending Zen Internet for about 3 years now and continue to do so (I do earn a small introductory commission from them for introducing clients via this link).

Single candle on calendarIt’s a year since I started writing this blog every week. Before that I’d just dipped my toe in the water, wondering if I’d got anything useful to say on a regular basis to my computer support clients and potential clients. So, this week I thought I’d have a look back on some of the earlier posts and see what’s changed.

Microsoft Security Essentials

MSE LogoOn 16th October 2010 I wrote a post about Windows free antivirus program – Microsoft Microsoft Essentials. I had just installed it on an XP machine, and then I put it on my Vista Ultimate machine. It hasn’t caused me any problems apart from the tray icon disappearing initially on the XP version. The program just quietly gets on with the job. It’s caught a few nasties and seems to have dealt with them without drama. Admittedly, I don’t use these machines much except when providing remote computer support to clients who use Vista and XP themselves, and as destinations for backups from my main machine. Nevertheless, it appears to have done a near perfect job so far. It’s easy to install and very unobtrusive.

I now trust Microsoft Essentials to the extent that I have installed it on my new main laptop – a Samsung RF511 15.6 inch notebook. (This is my third Samsung and, so far, it’s as good as the first two.)

AVG Antivirus

AVG LogoShortly after blogging about Microsoft Security Essentials I covered AVG Free and even then I was complaining about how they try to mislead you into installing a trial of the paid version rather than installing/upgrading the free version. It’s my impression that this tendency has got worse during the last year and, frankly, I’m now too embarrassed to recommend it to clients unless I think they will be happy to do battle with AVG’s mis-directions. Recently, I’ve even seen AVG popups that suggest that AVG has saved the user from innumerable threats in the recent past. This is un-necessary, intimidating and misleading. I’d been recommending AVG for several years, but I now recommend Microsoft Security Essentials instead.

Zen Internet

Zen Internet Logoon 5th November last year I gave a plug, by way of a blog posting, to Zen Internet. They’d just won PC Pro Magazine’s award for Best Internet Provider for the seventh time. Guess what: they’ve just done it again.

As a consultant providing computer support to small organisations, independent professionals, and home users, I am often the person asked to deal with internet provider call centres on behalf of bemused and frustrated clients. I have some clients who call me to their homes and offices specifically to deal with these call centres because they find the experience too stressful, frustrating, and protracted to do it themselves.

Call centres appear to be geared to handling the maximum number of technical support calls with the minimum expertise. The way they do this is to force their support staff to follow a strict troubleshooting sequence that doesn’t require them to think: just to follow the instructions on their screen. The agent isn’t allowed to deviate from “the script”. so no real dialogue takes place with the client. It doesn’t seem to matter very much what the customer tells the “support agent”, the agent will still insist on making the poor client jump through exactly the same sequence of hoops every time. This approach tramples right over the customer’s primacy in the exchange. It’s appalling, frustrating and dis-empowering.

Compare this approach with that of Zen Internet. Their support people (based in Rochdale) actually listen to you, engage with you, and address your issue as a one-off that needs to be solved as such. It’s true that they don’t offer 24 hour support (it’s 08:00-20:00 weekdays and 09:00-17:00 at weekends), but that’s probably because they’re staffed by human beings – who need to sleep. Despite only being available during reasonable hours, Zen provide a much much better service than the likes of BT, Virgin and AOL. It’s true, though, that Zen are not competing on price. You won’t get broadband from them for a fiver a month. I use the Zen Lite service. It’s their “entry level” service and costs £15.31 plus VAT per month. It only includes 10gb downloads, but that’s fine for me as I don’t download movies or watch BBC iPlayer. As far as I am concerned Zen are worth every penny and I am happy to keep recommending them and plugging them.

So, as I’ve kept blogging on a weekly basis for a year there’s every chance I’ll stay with it. The readership is small but very very select! Actually, the readership is growing slowly and steadily, but I’ve not spent time and effort promoting it beyond the readers who matter most – my own computer clients and potential clients. I try and keep the focus on the needs of my own computer clients, but I am, of course, very happy for anyone at all to subscribe to the newsletter or read the blog online.

Thanks for reading!

Monthly broadband costs can now be reduced to well under £10 per month. If you are paying substantially more than this – because, for instance, you’ve had your current contract for a couple of years or more – then it may well be worth either shopping around or contacting your current provider to see if they can offer you a better deal (I’ve heard that AOL will now drop your monthly charges substantially if they think you are about to abandon them – how the mighty are fallen).

If you have been wondering if your broadband speed is all that it should be, or wondering whether you are getting a good deal on your broadband contract, or puzzled about the terminology or technology, it could well be worth visiting http://www.broadband.co.uk/

A good site for checking your current speed and comparing it with other people in your neighbourhood is http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/

Personally, I think that the overall service and the quality of the technical support are more important than the monthly cost or the speed of the connection (within reasonable limits, of course). I’m paying about £18 per month to Zen and I’d much rather do that than pay £7 per month elsewhere.

Why? They answer the phone quickly, they are based in the UK, and their focus is on solving the problem rather than obeying the list of instructions they have been given regarding support calls. They don’t spend 20 minutes asking you everything from your postcode, to your mother’s maiden name, to your inside leg measurement, and then force you to do the umpteen checks that you already did before picking up the phone (eg re-booting the router). If the problem isn’t fixed there and then, they send progress emails and these are signed by the person responsible for the issue. Why can’t other organisations realise that this is the way to keep customers?

Discover Award Winning Broadband from £17.99 per month inc. VAT. Order Now.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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