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Oftel is to help consumers compare telcos in a bid to encourage them to change phone companies. The service, available online at its Phonebills site, reportedly lets consumers get an immediate set of telephone bill comparisons to help them find the cheapest deal in their area.

Simply by answering a series of questions about the type and frequency of the telephone calls they make, and then typing in their postcode, consumers will instantly find out which telephone company in their area is likely to give them the lowest bill. That's the theory. When this reporter tried it this morning the website was clunky and slow, and could offer no alternative to BT, which kinda defeats the object of the service. That's probably down to where you live, remarked an Oftel spokeswoman who was unfamiliar with the organisation's new offering.

The site was developed by five companies - BT, Cable & Wireless, Eurobell, ntl, and Telewest - with the support of Oftel and consumer groups. Independent telecomms pricing consultants used information provided by the telecomms companies to produce the guide.

David Edmonds, Oftel's director general said: "This initiative is a positive step forward for the industry and for consumers. It is the first time the industry has co-operated to provide comparable information on prices."

A spokesman for BT said he thought it was a "tremendous idea". He was equally gung-ho when asked if he thought this was further evidence of the watchdog exerting its influence over BT. "When you're the fastest gun in town everyone wants to have a go," he said shooting from the lip. Which begs the question - which one's BT - the good, the bad or the downright ugly? ®

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