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Bulldog's broadband u-turn 'may improve customer support'

Analysts believe that Bulldog's notoriously poor service could improve once it stops adding new subscribers, while customers say they have been left in the lurch

Disgruntled Bulldog subscribers may be the winners now the Internet service provider (ISP) has stopped courting new residential customers — at least in the short term.

Analysts have suggested that the ISP's legendarily poor customer service "may actually improve" as a result of parent company Cable & Wireless's decision to focus on Bulldog's wholesale side and stop signing up new retail customers.

Bulldog, which for the last few years advertised an attractively low cost, high-speed broadband service, quickly became one of the most complained-about ISPs in the UK, with customers highlighting a billing system that frequently went awry, randomly restricted bandwidth and an indifferent and sometimes uncontactable customer services call centre team.

After a year that saw an investigation by Ofcom and the introduction of so-called "free broadband" offers by the likes of Carphone Warehouse and Orange, Bulldog announced last week that it was no longer taking on new customers through its call centres. And that could be the solution to its existing customers' woes.

"They haven't got the strain on their call centres of having new customers come on in response to marketing campaigns," said Jupiter Research's Ian Fogg on Monday. "They may find it easier to provide customer support for the existing customers than they have in the past — their customer service may actually improve."

Cesar Bachelet, a telecoms analyst for Ovum, agreed that reduced pressure on Bulldog's call centre staff could improve matters, and suggested that the job would be made easier as customers leave the ISP for new "free broadband" deals.

"You probably will see a process of natural attrition from the customer base as more attractive offers come in," Bachelet said on Monday, adding: "If their customer base is static and declining, it is much easier to plan for the customer service needs.

"A lot of Bulldog's customers are only on a one-month contract. They'll probably just end up with a core of loyal customers."

However, Bachelet also said it was "difficult to see" where Bulldog's residential business would go next. The company has already suggested that it may be amenable to selling its customer base on to another ISP, which would leave subscribers in an uncertain position.

Several Bulldog customers have told ZDNet UK they are less than confident about their future with the ISP.

"According to Bulldog it will not affect me, but who knows," said Lynn Phillips, while Sean Andrews said: "According the notice I received, they will continue to service existing customers. I guess that remains to be seen."

Mark Stelios said he had hoped Bulldog's announcement actually meant existing customers were being dropped, as he felt that he had "been held hostage" for half a year.

"I have been trying to get them to disconnect me for six months, to no avail," Stelios wrote. "I have been tearing my hair out.

"I could never get a reply on the phone, but I did actually get a reply to one of my many emails, saying that 'someone would contact me regarding disconnection'. This never happened."

"Woody", on the other hand, told ZDNet UK he was hoping for the best, writing: "If they continue to maintain the broadband/phone line service, I will probably stay with them (it would be most inconvenient to have to change my phone number yet again!) But there was no 12-month contract between myself and Bulldog, so presumably they could just terminate my line if it becomes a financial burden to them. I wait to see what happens."