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ISP V21 to sue wholesale supplier

V21/Biscit sues NetServices after its customers were handed to another ISP, prompting claims they were being bullied into new contracts
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Internet service provider V21 is to sue its erstwhile wholesale provider NetServices, after its customers were suddenly routed through to a new ISP.

The incident, which began unexpectedly on Wednesday, has angered customers, and left them unable to connect to the internet without signing a new contract — often more expensive than their previous one. 

V21 was bought by another ISP, Biscit, only last month. But, on Wednesday, V21's customers found themselves faced with a page, hosted by rival provider ezeeDSL (a subsidiary of the provider 186k), explaining that their ISP no longer had any web services. No warning had been given of the cut-off.

"As of today, V Two One 'Biscit CSP' will no longer be able to provide your existing Broadband services," the screen read. "186k is not in a position to comment on the reasons for this unexpected announcement at this time. However, a plan is in place to ensure you have minimal loss of your service."

The page went on to explain that V21/Biscit's customers could ensure "service continuity" if they promptly entered their credit card details and signed up for a new 12-month contract with ezeeDSL/186k, which is also a wholesale customer of NetServices. Any customers who had already paid up front for their V21 contract would have to take it up with V21, with 186k claiming it had no customer or contract data from V21, and customers would need to start from scratch.

Worse, customers wishing to move to a provider that was not ezeeDSL would have to wait 10 days for BT to "action such cease requests". Such a process should be able to be smoothened by the issue of a migration authorisation code (MAC) but NetServices claimed that their wholesale distribution agreement with V21 forbade them from issuing MACs.

Biscit then announced on Thursday afternoon that it is beginning legal proceedings against NetServices for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.

Customers of V21/Biscit's service have reacted angrily to the sudden cut-off, and the suggestion that they should sign up with ezeeDSL.

Graham Pike, a music publisher who signed up with V21, is faced with paying nearly twice as much to continue his broadband service through ezeeDSL. He currently pays £11.99 a month for an service with a maximum speed of 8Mbps, but is being offered the same service for £25 a month from ezeeDSL. Alternatively, he could take a 512Mbps Office product for £20 a month.

"My problem is that I work from home so I need a broadband connection to send large files to clients," Pike said. "My choice is to pay a lot more for broadband from ezeeDSL, wait nearly a month to change suppliers, or resort to dial-up."

 "Don't do it people, just say no!" blogged another customer on Wednesday. "Do not give in to underhand tricks, and do not commit yourself to another 12 months with a NetServices ISP, and probably little hope of a MAC at the end of it. Better to be cut off and live with dial-up, then get a new, decent, non NetServices ISP!"

Pike added that he had contacted Ofcom....

...about his concerns, who said they weren't able to take action and explained that all requests to move away from ezeeDSL would be processed in bulk on 24 November.

"The lady at Ofcom was very helpful, but she asked me to please file a complaint so that they can get the MAC rules changed," said Pike.

Row over bandwidth charges
In its statement announcing its legal action against NetServices, V21 — which represents about 20 percent of NetService's business — said it has had a "commercial dispute" with its supplier for "some months", Biscit claimed that after it bought V21 in October it was presented with a bill for "burst bandwidth charges" dating back to December 2005.

V21 rejected the invoice and last week began auditing all its previous invoices with NetServices, said Biscit, which also claimed that NetServices had been withholding technical support and MACs from V21's customers since October. Following Wednesday's events, V21 is now advising its customers to demand their MAC codes from NetServices — even though NetServices claim this is impossible — and use them to reconnect to V21.

NetServices was also a supplier, along with Tiscali, of ISP Fast24, on which it recently pulled the plug. Fast24 customers have also been routed to the ezeeDSL page and urged to sign up. They were also refused MACs.

Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, announced in August that it wanted to be able to force ISPs to issue MACs at the customer's request. And, on Tuesday, BT said it would start charging ISPs that refused their departing customers MACs, as Openreach has itself been obliged to pick up the bill in such cases.

ZDNet UK attempted to contact NetServices for comment, but was told that everyone was in meetings. Attempts to get through to the V21/Biscit offices also failed.

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