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Free Web calls: BT speaks – not

Suddenly it's not so good to talk after all

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Updated BT has refused to confirm news that its BTInternet service is to offer toll-free access to the Net as of 5 June. "We will make an announcement when the proper business decision has been made," said BT spokesman David Pincott, in response to the story that broke earlier today on The Register. The official line from BT is in sharp contrast to that of BTInternet's customer support staff. This morning an operator confirmed that BTInternet would be offering toll-free access the Net from 5 June. The operator even said he would send details of the service and the software in the post. To have the marketing bumph and software ready to be sent out sounds like the "business decision" has already been made. Still, this supports anecdotal evidence forwarded by Register readers who reported similar conversations they'd had with BTInternet staff. BTInternet customer support staff have now been gagged and are refusing to talk about the toll-free service. But this is not the end of the story. Speculation in a number of newsgroups over the last day or so pointed to BT ClickFree offering a toll-free service due to be launched 1 June. So far there is nothing to substantiate this claim. Speculation had been heightened further still following the publication of an 0800 number that provided free Net access for users. BT denied it was trialling a toll-free service claiming instead that it was part of a V90 modem trial. The Register subsequently received an email from a reader who said that the username and password of the 0800 service he was using was "btclickfree." Once again, there was no proof that this was little more than just a rumour. Yet BT's refusal to come clean on its 5 June launch, despite this journalist hearing it for himself, shows a blatant disregard for Net users in the UK. Either BT is going to launch a toll-free service or it isn't. If it is, then it should say so now and put an end to this you-don't-need-to-know-until-we-tell-you attitude. If it's not, then The Register wants to know why staff at BTInternet deliberately set out to mislead Net users when they said the service was due to be launched on 5 June. Is BT so afraid of competition from screaming.net that it would deliberately try and stall its customers from joining LocalTel with promises of toll-free access? The coming days and weeks are going to be very interesting. ®

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