Exclusive: BT's 'rogue salesman' excuse fails to Click

Following BT's admission last week that it has been poaching Internet users from other ISPs, a ZDNet News reader has reported a second instance of the tactic contradicting the telco's claim that the first was an "isolated" occurrence.The reader, who is a user of Cix, the UK's oldest conferencing system and more recently an ISP, said he received a sales call ostensibly about BT's Friends and Family discount schemes.

Following BT's admission last week that it has been poaching Internet users from other ISPs, a ZDNet News reader has reported a second instance of the tactic contradicting the telco's claim that the first was an "isolated" occurrence.

The reader, who is a user of Cix, the UK's oldest conferencing system and more recently an ISP, said he received a sales call ostensibly about BT's Friends and Family discount schemes. The BT salesman attempted to switch him to Click. "In my case it was late Wednesday afternoon (September 9)," said the reader, "and they started off going through the Friends and Family stuff, and then went on to ask if I used the Internet. I said straight away that I was happy with my current service provider, but they kept trying to push it". The attempt is, according to Oftel, a "breach of the telco's monopoly position".

The reader went on to say that the salesperson was male. In our first report, the salesperson was identified by the telco as being female, suggesting the practice is not, as BT claimed, an isolated incident. This fact prompted Oftel to request details of the incident from ZDNet News and IT Week which have been sent to the watchdog.

We contacted BT, but it was unable to explain this new incident. It had previously stated that the sales call reported last week was the result of a maverick telesales worker deciding to send out Click CD-ROMs on her own initiative and that she'd been severely reprimanded. A spokesman for BT, said "Obviously, we're still investigating. It's not our policy to do this."

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) which has expressed its concern over Click in several meetings and a letter to Oftel is worried by the latest developments. "I am deeply concerned," said Laurence Blackhall, chairman of ISPA. "It would appear that BT has made the assumption that BT Click is part of its systems business as opposed to supplemental services business. It [BT] is seriously deluded if it thinks anyone is going to believe the Internet can be delivered without a significant level of support. BT has pre-empted Oftel's decision." Citing a specific objection the ISPA made in its missive to Oftel earlier this year, Blackhall added: "BT is able to use call records to identify users of Internet other than their own and that makes me extremely concerned."

Paul Myers, UK managing director of the ISP X-Stream, has also written to Oftel expressing his company's concern at BT's potential abuse of power. "This doesn't surprise me at all. It's a disgusting abuse of monopoly position. Oftel hasn't responded to any of our letters now, but after this latest episode, I as an ISP, expect a full enquiry."

Click, which was announced in June, will allow customers to use the Internet for a planned 1p per minute. Its launch date is not yet known but is expected to be sometime next month.

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