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BT accused of stifling competition

Rival telco has complained to Oftel over slow transfers of customer accounts

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LocalTel has accused BT of working at a snail's pace, holding up thousands of Net users who want to switch telcos and take advantage of toll-free access to the Internet. Only 250 applications are being processed each day by BT, which claims it doesn't have the resources to process the applications any faster. Yet up to 3000 people a day are registering for screaming.net -- the service which offers free calls on LocalTel -- and the backlog is growing. In four weeks, more than 50,000 people have registered for the new ISP but only a fraction of them have been processed leaving many Net users frustrated and out of pocket. According to LocalTel's MD, Jeremy Stokes, the situation is "ludicrous" and he's angry that the company's growth can be choked by BT's go-slow approach. "The vast majority of calls that we are now receiving are from anxious customers wanting to know when their account is going to be transferred," he said. "Our customers are quite rightly demanding the service that we offered them. "We have done everything in our power to deliver the service and are now waiting for BT to take steps to rectify the situation," he said. LocalTel has complained to the telecomms watchdog and Oftel has said it will look into the matter. A spokesman for Oftel couldn't give any more information because a fire alarm went off mid-conversation. "I'd better go," he said, "I don't want to fry." There's no news whether it was a false alarm or not. Or maybe he was speaking on a mobile phone. BT has been quoted as saying that it underestimated the number of people wanting to switch telcos. But Stokes said that LocalTel's lawyers told BT months ago of their intentions. The company that reported last week that it makes £136 profit a second has given assurances that it will pump more resources into clearing the backlog. Earlier today The Register revealed that BTInternet is planning to introduce limited toll-free access for subscribers to its service. ®

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