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BT thrashed for 'free' VoIP call claim

Usage limits bite telco on backside

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BT Communicator - the giant telco's PC-based internet telephony service - does not make "free" calls, according to a ruling by the advertising standards authority (ASA).

The telco had bragged in one of its mailings: "BT Communicator - FREE UK Calls for a year" and "The power of BT Broadband to enjoy free calls for a year".

But this was challenged by a punter from Kent who asked whether the claim "free UK Calls" and "FREE UK Calls for a year" were misleading. Why? 'Cos he argued that using the VoIP service effectively used up the 1 gig a month usage limit that applies to the BT Broadband Basic package.

And to be able to use the broadband service for other services meant buying additional time online. Hardly free now, is it?

To its credit, BT coughed to the slip saying they "had not intended to charge customers for the service, but they had not fully considered the impact of usage allowances on the ability to make free calls".

Which begs the question, is the UK's monster telco considering the impact of usage allowances for its services? After all, it's not just VoIP. The telco recently unveiled its hybrid mobile-cum-landline phone - BT Fusion - which can be hooked up to a BT Broadband line. And yesterday it announced plans to unveil video on demand over broadband from next year.

Yet these applications all hoover up usage limits and could make tomorrow's broadband experience extremely costly for unsuspecting users.

We're still waiting to hear back from our man at BT.

In the meantime the ASA has given its verdict on the matter: "The Authority was concerned that, although the promotion offered 'free calls', those calls depleted the monthly usage allowance that a broadband customer paid for on a monthly basis as part of their broadband package."

BT has been told "not to describe calls that depleted a consumer's usage allowance as 'free' and to state prominently in advertisements for BT Communicator that making telephone calls depleted a consumer's broadband usage allowance".

In a statement BT said: "The ASA have raised the concern that customers who have a usage allowance on their broadband should be aware that bandwidth is used when making a voice call using a VoIP solution, and therefore cannot be deemed as a 'free' call. In response, BT will be changing any future advertising to reflect this. ®

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