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Freeserve slams Oftel over BT Broadband

'Gifted anti-competitive advantage'to BT

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Freeserve has slammed the telecoms regulator Oftel, accusing it of caving-in to BT and gifting the monster telco with the chance to dominate the broadband market.

The comments from the UK's biggest ISP come as Oftel attempted to clarify how BT can market its new "no frills" BT Broadband service without acting anti-competitively.

In a statement Oftel said that BT cannot use detailed information contained in its residential customers' bills to target particular customers, since no other operator has access to this information.

However, BT is also allowed to use its residential 'blue bill' to charge for its new 'BT Broadband' service and allowed to market Internet services on a generic basis.

Said David Edmonds, head of Oftel: "We have published clear procedures on BT's marketing of Internet services and use of joint billing to ensure BT does not act anti-competitively.

"BT must not use billing information from its telephony customers to target its marketing of Internet services to residential consumers.

"BT can market Internet services on a generic basis, for example by including information about a new product with everyone's bill."

However, Freeserve has lashed out at this decision claiming that under physical separation rules, BT is already prevented from using customer information to market its own Internet access services.

In a strongly worded statement Freeserve said: "Oftel has used this piece of old news to bury in its press release the fact that it has gifted to BT the anti-competitive advantage of using its blue bill to charge for its own broadband service.

"This fait accompli has been achieved without any industry consultation and with no apparent safeguards in place.

"The blue bill, which supports BT's near-monopoly fixed line phone business, is not available at wholesale and as such is a privilege of BT and BT alone.

"This is a clear example of BT being allowed by the regulator to leverage a dominant market position in fixed line telephony to establish a position in broadband."

Last month BT Retail - the consumer facing division of BT - said it would provide a "no frills" alternative for high-speed Internet access from the summer.

BT says the introduction of this stripped-down access-only service will help it achieve as many as five million broadband connections in the UK by 2006. ®

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