Oftel out of loop as BT plans free Web calls

Watchdog still waiting for notification

The UK telecomms regulator has been kept in the dark about BT's decision to offer toll-free Web access. No one at Oftel had a clue that BT was about to drop its biggest bombshell yet sending the UK Net industry into spin of speculation. The first anyone at Oftel knew about it was when The Register called them this morning to comment on the telco's monumental move. A spokesman for Oftel said: "I can confirm we have not been notified by BT about any offer for free calls to the Internet." Ordinarily, BT has to give Oftel 28 days notice before introducing pricing changes to give other telcos a chance to appeal or alter their tariffs. Details are still sketchy about BT's decision to offer free calls to the Internet at weekends. But the spokesman said: "If the offer is being done through [its subsidiary] BTInternet then they don't have to notify us. "That said, usually they do - but for some reason they've decided not to," he said. Oftel said it would "monitor the situation" for the time being and will not be launching a full inquiry into BT's decision unless someone makes a complaint. But BT's decision today does raise some interesting questions. Not least, whether the new service will be cross-subsidised by BT and whether it would have an anti-competitive effect on the marketplace. What's more, if BTInternet's new tariff is self-financing other ISPs should be able to follow suit and offer similar packages for Net users in the UK. No one from BT was available for comment. ®

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