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Asda lashes mobile carriers for price hikes

BTCellnet and Vodafone attacked for 90 per cent increases

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Vodafone and BTCellnet are feeling the wrath of Asda after announcing plans to raise pre-paid mobile phone prices by 90 per cent. The supermarket chain has complained to Oftel, the telephone watchdog, that the companies have broken sales agreements. Asda has been buying mobiles at a cost price of around £30, but BTCellnet has announced it will up this to £60. Vodafone is doing the same, and Orange and One2One are believed to be taking similar steps. Asda claims this is anti-competitive behaviour. The price hikes follows the price war which broke out over pay-as-you-go mobiles in supermarkets last week. Asda, Safeway and Sainsbury’s all followed Tesco's price slashing, resulting in some packages on the shelves priced as low as £49.99. Apparently, Vodafone and BTCellnet were unable to cope with the surging demand, so decided to push up prices. They also expressed worries about a repeat of the problems experienced last Christmas following booming sales. However, according to today's Daily Telegraph, Asda accused the telecomms companies of being just plain greedy. "Having turned mobile phones into everyday items, BTCellnet and Vodafone now want to re-introduce higher charges and put the low-price genie back in the bottle," said Sioned Rees-Thomas, Asda home and leisure business director. Asda called for Oftel to act fast, warning that otherwise customers would lose out. "The words 'cake' and 'eat it' spring to mind," another Asda representative added. BTCellnet defended its actions by claiming the company was simply not wringing enough profits out of its customers. "No one foresaw that the acceleration in unit demand would outstrip customer call volumes in the short to medium term. "Lower-than-expected levels of billable usage, and a higher-than-expected level of sales of phones have therefore necessitated these changes," wept one BTCellnet representative. Oftel this afternoon said it was unable to comment as it had still not received the complaint from Asda. So much for Asda imploring the watchdog to act fast - obviously, the supermarket thought it was more important to alert the press than the regulator itself. ®

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