Come clean over pricing policy, telco told

Lawyers hover as telco stands accused of smoke and mirrors over pricing...

Lawyers hover as telco stands accused of smoke and mirrors over pricing...

Business telco Colt is under fire today for its refusal to make public how much it charges business customers. The telco is considering its legal position after receiving a letter from a price comparison service accusing it of confusing business customers by refusing to publish its tariffs. Ocean Solutions, which runs a price comparison service, had written the letter in response to growing concern that telecoms users - especially small businesses (SMEs) - are unable to get competitive prices for their telecommunications services because of a policy of price confusion by the major telcos. Paul Jankel, director at Ocean Solutions, questioned Colt's legal right to refuse him pricing information. Christopher Smedley, director, legal and regulatory for the London-based telco, told silicon.com the letter was in the hands of his lawyers, pending a response. He said he believed Colt is in the right both legally and ethically. He said: "Our customers do not come to us saying they need more price transparency. Making our prices public so third parties could perform price comparisons is not something we feel would benefit our customers." He added it is in Ocean Solutions' commercial interest to get telcos to publish their prices. However, while Colt argues third party price comparison services are not in the interest of users, Colt itself uses such a service from consultancy Paragon Bell to compare its tariffs against other telcos. When quizzed about this, Colt's Smedley said he "was not aware of any deal between Colt and Paragon Bell", however a spokesman at Paragon Bell confirmed this was the case. Presumably while Colt itself finds such a service useful, business end users would not. Jankel argues that end users are being fleeced by operators who make prices so confusing that customers are unable to compare like with like. His argument is backed up by Ewan Sutherland, executive director at the International Telecoms User Group (INTUG). Sutherland says SMEs in particular are left in the dark over prices. "It is very hard for SMEs, unable to pay dedicated telecoms managers, to untangle the situation, to have any idea if they are getting a good deal," he said. Colt argues that any third party analysis would be unable to take account of service levels and quality, and discounting offered to many business customers. Ocean Solutions has put pressure on Oftel to step in and force the telcos to publish their tariffs. Oftel declined to comment on today's events.