Bandwidth Aid - BT finally answers critics' questions

BT agrees to face the music as rivals meet to settle differences - down the pub

BT is to face up to its critics and answer questions -- but only about trivia -- as the telco and some of its bitterest rivals meet up for a charity pub quiz this Wednesday.

The event -- dubbed Bandwidth Aid -- will see companies like Vodafone, AOL and regulator Oftel attempting to settle their differences in the pub. Money raised will go to Comic Relief.

This light-hearted response to criticism that BT is holding back the communications market in the UK comes at a time when the incumbent telco can little afford to laugh. Mounting debts have led to speculation that chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield's head is imminently going to roll. He will not be made any more popular by revelations in the Times newspaper that he is likely to get a £5m golden handshake.

There is also mounting speculation the company will bring forward its quarterly results -- due on 17 May -- and use the occasion to announce a rights issue to raise more money and give details of its sell-off plans. Reports suggest it will sell its 50 percent stake in international arm Concert to AT&T.

BT is also about to launch a major new multi-million pound PR campaign to restore its battered public image. In the meantime the telco remains determined to see the funny side of its new impoverished status. Commenting on the upcoming pub battle a BT spokesman said: "It's in the bag... unless the so-called opposition try to bribe their way to victory as er... there'd be no way we could raise the cash to outbid them."

Internet service provider AOL has become one of BT's most outspoken critics, leading the campaign to get unmetered access widely available in the UK and now taking on the battle to improve BT's broadband service. It is equally bullish about Bandwidth Aid. "We haven't lost a battle with BT yet," a spokesman pointed out.

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