Oftel lays down challenge to BT

'Complain about BT and we will act' says the regulator, as ISPs air grievances in secret forum

A new round in the ongoing fight for cheaper Net access opened Tuesday as Oftel laid down a challenge to ISPs -- complain about BT and we will act.

At a secret meeting with industry leaders including telcos, ISPs and consumer groups Oftel claimed that it was a complaint-driven organisation and according to one attendee "needed a complaint from somebody to act".

BT is coming under increasing pressure from government, industry and users to offer unmetered Internet access and last week announced a new tariff which it claimed would allow ISPs to offer such packages. According to an AOL spokesman the Oftel meeting was used by ISPs to air their disappointment at BT's new tariff. "If Oftel ever had any doubt that there is serious unhappiness about these tariffs, these doubts have been swept away," he said. "There was no ambiguity about the extend of the disappointment with the tariff."

CUT (Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications) spokesman Errol Ziya claims BT did not take too kindly to criticism of its new tariff. "BT remained bullish in the face of open hostility and derision," he said. According to Ziya the majority of attendees regarded the tariff as a "useless package". "The general feeling was that BT has its finger in the dam and is trying to keep the flood back but it is not in a sustainable position," he said.

Ziya agrees that Oftel is simply waiting for an ISP to push them into action. "An ISP needs to ask BT for unmetered access, be refused a reasonable tariff and then complain to Oftel," he said.

With AOL reportedly in negotiations with BT for an unmetered package for its subscribers, the onus could fall on AOL's shoulders. So will they force action from the watchdog? "Will we complain to Oftel? We are evaluating our options," an AOL spokesman claimed.

Interestingly BT was not prepared to put forward a spokesperson to comment on the meeting. "It is Oftel's forum. We don't feel it is right to talk about it," a spokesman said.

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