Oftel acts to end Calls and Access dispute

Oftel announced its recommendations to end the row between BT and operators using the Calls and Access service this week.

Calls and Access allows operators to rent lines from BT in return for taking over users' billing and customer services. Localtel -- now owned by Dutch ISP World Online -- uses the service to offer discounts on voice calls as well as free weekend and evening Internet calls via screaming.net. Around four other firms offer similar services including discount telco NextCall.

Billing fiascos and hard marketing from BT to keep hold of its customers led Oftel to slap an anti-competitive order on the telco in October last year. This week it publishes details of what BT' s obligations should be in ensure the service runs smoothly. These include no more than three working days to install a telephone line, eight working day to transfer BT customers to the new provider and two working days to set up alternative services.

CEO of NextCall and head of the Calls and Access interest group Andrew Harrington believes there are still outstanding issues. "BT wants the right to change the Calls and Access contract with us whenever it chooses," he says. "It refuses to negotiate. It is ridiculous, illegal, unenforceable and prehistoric."

Harrington believes the problems operators have had with BT could be responsible for the low take up of the service. He is also not happy with the aggressive marketing BT is employing to win customers back. "They ring up every one of our customers and asks if they really want to go to NextCall. BT makes a substantial amount of revenue from the service and should not treat us like it treats any other competitor," he says.

If the dispute is not resolved by September, Oftel has the right to impose terms on BT.

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