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FreeServe charging double for tech support calls

Free ISP still charging £1 a minute despite introducing 50p-a-minute in February

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Leading ISP FreeServe is still charging £1 a minute for its telephone support service despite announcing in February that it had halved the cost. Net users who call FreeServe's original helpline number, 0906 553 5600, which was printed on tens of thousands of CD covers, are still being charged £1 a minute for technical support. Other subscription-free ISPs charge as little as 25p a minute for telephone support. Although callers are being told of the £1 a minute service charge at the beginning of the call, they are not informed that they can halve the cost of the call simply by phoning another number. Nor is their call re-routed automatically to the new cheaper-rate number. Instead, FreeServe customers who don't know could run up a bill for as much as £20 every time they call the helpline. A spokeswoman for FreeServe refused to say how many people were still calling the 0906 number or how much money FreeServe was making as a result of not telling their customers of the cheaper service. However, she did say that few and fewer people were using it. She added that the original number had been maintained for reasons of continuity and that callers to the helpline were told of the new 50p-a-minute number, 0839 517 517, but only in the first week. A spokesman for the premium telephone number watchdog, ICSTIS, confirmed that FreeServe could not simply have altered the tariff charges on the original 0906 number even though this appears to be the most logical and simple solution to the problem. But this does not explain why FreeServe continues to operate a £1-a-minute service when it made such a song and dance earlier this year saying that it had cut its charges. Asked if FreeServe had notified existing users of the new number one FreeServe customer told The Register: "No, they have never been in touch about the new number or the lower tariff." What's more, the new 50p-a-minute 0839 number will become obsolete in July when new telephone codes are introduced. Premium rate numbers will start with the 09 prefix, the same as FreeServe's existing £1-a-minute number. The worry for FreeServe's million or so customers is whether the monster ISP will revert back to the £1-a-minute charge or introduce yet another telephone number. This latest hiccup is yet further embarrassment for the ISP after The Register revealed last month that FreeServe is passing on confidential customer information to its sister company PC World (see earlier story). Although invited to make further comment FreeServe failed to contact The Register before press time. ®

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