Scottish telco Thus has accused BT of breaking competition laws -- or at best of "fantastic inefficiency" -- over its broadband migration and upgrade procedures.
The case began when Thus, owner of ISP Demon, heard from potential customer Tina Weston. She had tried to move to Demon's broadband service, but was ultimately turned down when BT Wholesale -- the division of BT which owns the UK's telecoms infrastructure -- found that her house was too far away from the local exchange (ADSL will not work consistently if the premises are more than 5.8km away from an exchange).
Thus believes this was a little odd, given she was an existing BT Broadband customer.
A BT spokesman said: "Ms Weston's complaint has been escalated and is being investigated as a matter of urgency. BT will be responding directly to Ms Weston shortly. At this stage, it appears that the distance of Ms Weston's home from her local exchange, at more than 6km, is at the root of the issue. There is no question of BT barring Ms Weston from subscribing to Demon's broadband service."
But Thus, owner of ISP Demon, has since uncovered several other instances which it believes shows BT is breaking the Competition Act -- or is guilty of what a senior Thus executive described as "fantastic inefficiency and stupidity".
It cites the example of another potential customer who applied for a Demon DSL service. Her line also failed BT Wholesale's 'line length' test (ie. BT claimed that she, like Tina Weston, lived too far away from the exchange).
The customer then went to BT Retail to order the BT Broadband product -- and had her service installed.
Ian Hood, director of communications and regulations at Thus, said: "Is this just fantastic inefficiency and stupidity, or deliberate? If it's the latter, Oftel will come down hard on BT. Even if it's the former, they won't be impressed."
According to Oftel regulations, BT Wholesale is not supposed to give BT Retail any preferential treatment over other organisations. Critics of the company, including Thus, have long claimed that the 'Chinese walls' between the two divisions are not particularly effective, and claim that BT Retail has access to privileged information.
Hood said: "We have concerns about the blurring of the boundaries between BT Wholesale and BT Retail."
Thus has asked Oftel to investigate these cases. The BT spokesman said the company will co-operate fully with any enquiry.