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BT responds to 'unethical' contract criticism

The communications provider has introduced a three-month grace period for PSTN line customers who do not want to be automatically 'upgraded' to a new 12-month contract
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

BT has given a three-month grace period to customers of its standard business phone lines who do not want to receive an automatic "upgrade" that locks them into a new 12-month contract.

Following a 28-day notice period, Tuesday was the last day BT Business PSTN customers had to opt out of the upgrade. In the upgrade, around 220,000 customers of BT's standard business PSTN lines were offered BT Business Line Divert — a call-diverting service that otherwise costs £6 per quarter — for free. The catch was that, unless customers opted out of the offer by calling a BT freephone number, they were also locked into a new 12-month contract with the company.

The move caused outrage among rival communications providers and even some BT partners, such as the communications integrator Solution1. Falk Bleyl, head of business development at Solution1, told ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday that BT's opt-out upgrade "leaves users tied to an unfair contract for a year".

"It is unbelievable that any organisation can do this," said Bleyl. "It may not be illegal but it should be unethical. In a small-business environment, with all the other things they have to worry about, you may easily forget or just overlook it."

Asked whether the opt-out should instead be automatic, until the customer has responded to the renewal request, Bleyl agreed and said that such a course of action would be more ethical. "It is the same with any contract that would change your terms and conditions without making you do something," he added.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday, a BT spokesperson disagreed with the description of the move as unethical. "I don't think it is — we wrote to all customers and asked them to contact us [if they wanted to opt out]," the spokesperson said. "They don't have to take the service — there is no coercion."

"We basically think this is good news for customers," BT's spokesperson continued. "[The terms are] clear — the benefits are you get a free service for what would normally cost you £6 a quarter."

Later on Wednesday, BT Business issued a revised statement on the matter, in which it said it would be "contacting all customers — those who have declined the upgrade and those who haven't — to confirm their choice and the terms and conditions".

"Customers can still ask for the call-divert service to be removed at any time until 19 May and the 12-month minimum contract will not apply," read BT's statement.

After the new statement's release, BT's spokesperson explained that, past 19 May, customers would still be able to ask BT to remove the call-divert portion of their contracts, but they would still be tied to the 12-month contract period.

ZDNet.co.uk's Colin Barker contributed to this article.

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