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How to switch ISPs the easy way

Get a new broadband provider

With telcos accused of 'slamming' customers from one service to another, PC Advisor looked at smart ways to secure a better deal.

So you're keen to switch broadband supplier. If you find your existing ISP has yet to drop its prices to those advertised by others, head to ADSLGuide.org to discover whether the speeds tempting you away are actually available to you.

Get the latest broadband internet news, tips and reviews at Broadband Advisor

There are hundreds of ISPs and many focus on specific parts of the country. It's worth chatting with your provider to see what it might be able to offer to keep your custom.

It's worth checking the speed you're getting – you may be better off with a consistent 2Mbps than a fluctuating ADSL Max connection. IPStream – the 'old school' broadband BT Retail sold to ISPs – is being replaced by LLU services. Here, the provider installs its own hardware and sells you a connection that uses algorithms to squeeze out the maximum bandwidth it can – often at the expense of consistency.

Many respondents to our survey reported severe fluctuations in their connections.

A quick visit to bt.speedchecker.com will reveal your 'true' connection rate, but this will be accurate only for any given moment – repeat the experiment. If you consistently get poor speeds and they are causing you problems, consider changing providers.

Contention is an issue, but before chucking in the towel with one provider, head to the exchange checker on your ISP's tech support pages to see whether the exchange is congested.

If it is, changing ISP won't help.

Another compelling reason to swap providers is so you can bundle broadband with one or more other services from the same company.

This has been by far the biggest trend in broadband in the past year. Be wary, however. Such combination deals are compelling, but don't let a cold call from a salesperson sway you.

Broadband's guardian angel

Ofcom has begun a crackdown on 'slamming', where your phone and/or broadband service is changed from your existing provider to another with or without your permission. Getting untangled from such a mess can prove tricky. Our poll unearthed more than 30 instances of this dodgy practice. Ofcom classes this as mis-selling, and is looking into whether its newly extended definition requires further consumer protection.

Satisfaction levels were high for survey respondents who did choose to bundle phone and broadband. As with anything, research thoroughly and don't be pressured into changing suppliers.

Nor should you be swayed by a cheap deal – especially if this entails a lengthy contract tie-in. Switching company firsthelpline.com says we Brits are increasingly weary of sticking with the same ISP for a year or more at a time.

If you've previously had your fingers burned by poor customer service or intermittent connections, it doesn't make much sense to charge into another lengthy subscription.

There are plenty of deals out there that let you try out the service and then sign up on a month-by-month basis, or even pay per gigabyte you use. Be, NamesCo, Zen and others offer 'no-strings' deals, although you should always check the smallprint. Some companies expect you to buy the router equipment from them if you leave within 12 months, for instance.

As long as your contract is expiring soon, you shouldn't have to pay to switch ISPs, but you will need a MAC (migration authorisation code). This expires within 30 days of issue. Request it from your current ISP and pass it to the prospective one.

You usually need to give written notice – especially if you intend to break your subscription contract. Depending on the arrangement at signup, the ISP may demand you return the router or modem or ask you to pay the balance of its value.

Many of us remain loyal to our ISPs and have stuck with it as reliability rates have improved, prices dropped and speeds accelerated (52.8 percent have been with the same provider for more than 24 months; see chart, page 80). But there's plenty of evidence of migration, too. If you need hefty downloads and no tie-ins, you'll still pay a premium; if you're up for bundling, you'll save significantly. And if you demand pure speed without interruption – and cable doesn't serve your area – you'll probably
find an ADSL Max deal to suit.

Switching ISPs: comparison sites

Whether you've decided to dump your existing broadband provider or you're after a fresh connection, doing your research is vital – you could easily end up tied into an unsatisfactory package. And the cheapest option may not offer the right services for your needs.

Online comparison sites can help you decide between broadband offers. Some, such as uSwitch.com and firsthelpline.com cover a range of consumer products, while other comparison sites are particularly aimed at disgruntled broadband users. Note that some of these sites include the monthly line rental within their figures.

Changing providers isn't as difficult as it used to be, but you're likely to be penalised for trying to swap service providers partway through a subscription. Check the charges and read through the terms and conditions before signing up – call the ISP for clarification if any of the details aren't sufficiently clear.

Moneysupermarket.com is an efficient site but it can be confusing to use. It provides an average monthly cost, rather than splitting figures into the monthly cost of the service and line rental. Broadbandchoice.co.uk is easier to use, with information such as the speed, connection fee, line rental and monthly charge all clearly displayed. Plus there are specific details about each package.

uSwitch.com delivers an abundance of information about choosing the best broadband service, although it lacks the easy table form of the other sites.

Broadbandgenie.co.uk is a useful site for gauging customers' opinions on the bundled services, offering reviews and ratings for each one. This type of information is essential, because the packages with rock-bottom prices frequently provide poor customer service.

Other sites worth checking out for bundled ISP comparisons include Thinkbroadband.com, Broadbandchecker.co.uk and UKBroadbandFinder.com.

All offer simple methods to research the best bundled deals out there. And many comparison sites check the availability of service in your specific area.

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