How do you like your broadband?
If the answer is 'not very much' you're not alone.
According to Ofcom research, about 20% of customers with the five biggest broadband providers are dissatisfied with their service and another quarter are neutral, rather than happy.
It's a shame, we think, because broadband is one of the UK's most competitive and crowded markets. Many providers - great ones - are dying for your custom.
All it takes is a switch. Here's our guide to jumping ship.
Most broadband providers deal in 12 or 18 month contracts.
Breaking the contract by moving within that initial period usually incurs either a flat-rate charge or means that you'll have to 'pay off' the contract to the end (e.g. if you pay £5 a month and you've got six months left: £30).
There is a cap on the amount ISPs can charge but, even so, it's expensive.
If you're not sure how far you are into a broadband contract, get in touch with your provider to check or have a look at our article on the subject.
In either case, it's often worth waiting until the end of the contract, at which point most providers allow you to cancel with 30 days notice, to move.
Don't cancel your deal altogether if you want to switch provider, though. Instead, ask for a MAC code (see next section) which should ensure a seamless switch.
Sometimes, waiting isn't an option: you want to get going now.
If you're beating a retreat because you're seriously unhappy it may be possible to break a contract when there's a serious fault on the part of the provider or a deal has been mis-sold.
Complain to the broadband provider first, preferably in writing. If the issue isn't resolved and the provider refuses to let you out of the contract you could then complain to an independent adjudication body.
There's no one body covering all broadband providers but we break down the way it works in this article.
However, note that get out of jail free cards are rare For example, it's not admissible to leave a contract because you're moving house, broadband providers want to come with you.
Even if you move somewhere that your current provider can't supply, the normal cancellation charges usually apply.
If you're moving house the rules are slightly different.
Most providers prefer to stick, limpet-like, with you as you go to your new home but, in the main, they won't charge for that change, although some will ask you to start a new minimum term contract of 12 or 18 months and those with O2 packages have to pay £51.06 if they move more than once within 12 months.
Providers give suggested notice periods (i.e. how long before you move you should get in touch) as follows:
|BT||'Early as possible'|
|Sky||At least 10 days|
|TalkTalk||At least 14 days|
|Virgin Media||At least 14 days|
The difficulty with that, however, is that services change from area.
If you're a Virgin Media cable customer, for example, and move to a non-cable property (more on checking here) the provider will ask you to continue paying them for their ADSL service, National broadband.
The same applies if, say, you have Sky's LLU broadband and move to an area that can only get Sky Connect.
If you're unhappy with the service in your new property or you're moving abroad, however, you will usually have no more rights to leave than in the section above.
Check your broadband contract's terms and conditions to find out for sure.
The other problem when you move house can be having a working phone line set up.
With most providers the postcode check you did to order broadband will tell you whether the phone line is working, too. If not, check with BT direct here .
A new line can cost up to £130. See our new phone installation guide for more information on that.
Finally, if you use one provider for line rental and another provider for broadband sort out the new telephone line first.
Tell the phone provider who will be providing your broadband and ask for a 'Linked Order Reference Number' - give this reference to your chosen broadband provider as soon as possible to ensure minimum downtime.
Once you're free to switch, or have resigned yourself to paying for cancellation, you'll need a Migration Authorisation Code (MAC) key.
Asking for a MAC key is not the same as cancelling your broadband and phone package.
Cancelling could land you with set-up fees with a new provider, such as new phone line installation fees; a MAC switch is, in most cases, free and should be much quicker than stopping the line and then installing a new provider.
The easiest way to get a MAC is simply to call your current broadband provider and ask for one. Here are a few numbers for the biggest providers:
|BT||0800 800 150|
|TalkTalk||0870 444 1820|
|Sky||08442 410 266|
|O2||0800 230 0202|
Your provider wants to keep you so they may offer you a better deal but they must give you a MAC on request (see next section).
The code they'll give you will look something like this: BBIP12345678/1AB23
By law, your broadband provider must issue you with a MAC code within five days of you requesting one.
They must also offer at least two ways for you to get the code (i.e. two of: by phone, over email or by post) although when you call up you'll usually get one immediately anyway.
Note, though, that providers are not obligated to give you a MAC key if you're not the named account holder, you've already requested that the line be disconnected or they've already given you a key in the past 30 days.
In other words: don't jump the gun and cancel and don't lose that code.
Only Virgin Media won't issue MAC keys because they're a cable provider. Just tell your new provider you're coming from Virgin Media, though, and they should do the rest.
Technically, LLU (unbundled) providers such as O2 and TalkTalk don't have to provide MAC keys either but they all seem to currently.
This guide has more detail on the switching process from these providers.
Once you have your MAC key, if you need one, you have 30 days before it expires to shop around for your new broadband deal.
Don't worry if you need longer or decide not to move after all, though, because if the MAC expires you can just get another one and none of these MAC key shenanigans will have any effect on your current broadband connection.
Once you have decided on a new provider, though, you just give them your MAC key, along with your personal information, during the sign-up process.
That will allow the new provider to get in touch with your current provider and switch the service.
Your input at this point should be minimal: barring complications within five working days or so you should have a new broadband provider.
According to Ofcom, in late 2010 UK consumers were collectively owed £10 million in unclaimed credit from their old broadband bills.
Not all providers automatically refund any credit that has built up on their customer's broadband bills when those customers leave.
Find out whether you need to claim - provider by provider - and why you might be in credit in the first place in this guide.
For bonus points when you switch broadband provider make sure that you check whether your in credit and also whether you need to ask for this cash back when you go.
This article was first published 16 November 2007, it was last updated 30 August 2012.
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