'Watchdog' barks at BTopenworld tactics

BT stands accused of shunting 34,000 heavy users of its unmetered package onto an unreliable alternative service

The BBC consumer affairs programme Watchdog is investigating allegations that BT has booted thousands of "heavy" Internet users off its unmetered service.

Thirty-four thousand BTopenworld Anytime customers have been shunted off the 24/7 unmetered narrowband service, for apparently clogging up the network. Those affected have been reclassified by BT, and forced to use a new dial-up connection that is significantly less reliable.

"There is no way of connecting between 6pm and midnight. I can try dialling-up for 30 to 35 attempts, but if I manage to get online, the connection will drop after three minutes," said Michael Grierson, a ZDNet UK News reader. "I am fuming -- I've been with BT for three years and am now being penalised. This is a form of discrimination -- I am not an abuser, but a normal user."

BT Internet Anytime offers its subscribers unlimited Internet access for £14.99 a month -- but an internal briefing document leaked to Watchdog reveals that the service has been unable to cope with so many users online at once. The document warns staff not to tell customers that they are being removed from the normal Anytime service, and stresses that the new dial-up number should only be given to those on the "hit" list.

"We're effectively being told to deny that the service has changed. The customer is paying for a service and that service is being altered -- I think to their detriment," a BT insider told Watchdog.

BT staff have been instructed to ignore customer complaints about the new service, and not to persuade dissatisfied customers to stay. According to the BT source, the company hopes the measure will encourage users to upgrade to the faster but more expensive broadband package.

"I believe this is a campaign targeted at frequent users either to lose their custom or to get them to upgrade to ADSL," said Grierson. "I cannot obtain ADSL in my area and am dependent on regular access, not access when BT deem it ok."

BTopenworld denies the allegations, and has told Watchdog that the measure is to improve the Anytime service for customers. "A small proportion of customers regularly use the service for exceptionally long periods of time at peak hours, contributing disproportionately to congestion for the majority of customers," said the BT statement. "We are therefore taking action to manage our network to spread the load more effectively."

See the Consumer News Section for full coverage.

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