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Customers trapped without broadband in South Yorkshire’s £150m super-farce

Customers using the Digital Region network in South Yorkshire are unable to move on, despite the network shutting down in August. 

The South Yorkshire broadband project was wound down after failing to turn a profit, despite having over £150 million of public money thrown at it. As was planned, power to broadband services was shut down on August 14. 

Despite broadband services no longer existing, former customers are reporting problems placing orders with other ISPs. 

Leaves on the line: Landline services on subscriber lines mean it can be hard for customers to leave or switch
Leaves on the line: Landline services on subscriber lines mean it can be hard for customers to leave or switch

An Ofcom spokesperson explained that if a customer is still receiving a service from an ISP – even if it’s not an internet service – it can be impossible for MACs to be generated. 

A MAC – Migration Authorisation Code – is needed whenever you want to switch your broadband service to another ISP. See our guide on switching for more details. 

Ofcom’s spokesperson said: “Where a consumer’s broadband has been ceased, it is not possible to generate a MAC. In these instances, consumers should be able to approach another ISP of their choice to request a new broadband service. 

“In the event that there is something preventing a new service being set up, such as a tag on the line, there are established industry processes through which broadband service providers are able to have tags removed.” 

Digital Region: ‘We’re not withholding MACs’A ‘tag on the line’ is Ofcom-speak for any issue that prevents customers from being able to order broadband on their line. Logistical issues caused by the closure of Digital Region could be one source of issues.

Local ISP Little Big One was absorbed into Chess Telecom, and Origin, the ISP which had the most Digital Region customers, ran into trouble when it tried to move a large number of subscribers to its own network. 

Ofcom’s spokesperson added: “We are also aware that, at the time, an ISP called Origin was able to obtain Migration Access Codes (MACs) for a number of its customers before the Digital Region Network closed, which enabled them to transfer those customers to other ISP’s without loss of service. After the network closed, we understand Origin were able to migrate their remaining customers over to a different network.” 

A Digital Region spokesperson asserted that no MACs were being withheld and that all Digital Region ISPs were well aware of the August 14 switchover date. 

“Over the last 12 months, Digital Region Limited has communicated regularly with its customers to encourage them to make alternative arrangements ahead of the August 14 deadline to minimise any disruption to their end users. Digital Region Limited has always been a wholesale network and so does not supply broadband services directly to any households or businesses. 
 
“No MAC codes are being withheld.  All MAC requests made to Digital Region Limited by ISPs have been submitted to BT and upon receipt of the code this is passed on to the relevant ISP.” 

BT said that it has worked with all Digital Region ISPs to make the best of the situation. BT’s spokesperson added: “We have been advising the relevant parties for several months about the best way to manage this situation in order to avoid lengthy service interruptions.   

“Openreach is managing just one part of the overall switching process, and we’re making every effort to work with service providers to complete our piece as quickly as possible.” 

Despite this, it appears that some customers have fallen through the cracks. In situations where customers can’t switch to another provider or leave their contracts early, Ofcom says that it can intervene, but suggests that customers contact their current ISP in the first instance.  

Ofcom said: “For consumers whose broadband has been ceased but continue to have line and calls with the same service provider (as part of a bundled service), we would suggest they speak to their provider about where this leaves them contractually. 

“If consumers are having difficulty being released from contracts, then they should follow their service providers complaints procedure in the first instance. If the matter is not resolved, then they can take their complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme.” 

The Alternative Dispute Resolution system allows Ofcom to act as a negotiator between a customer and an ISP in the event of complaints not being resolved. Ofcom’s spokeserson said: 
 
“We would expect all service providers to support a line migration as set out in the regulations. Ofcom has powers to investigate and take action where Communications Providers do not follow these rules.”

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