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NetServices reconnects V21 punters for free

Ofcom in wait and see mode (again)

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Broadband wholesaler NetServices has agreed to provide a connection free of charge to former customers of V21, the retail ISP it cut-off as part of a financial dispute.

NetServices will bear the cost of connections until Friday, when a "bulk cease" will be requested to unplug V21 users from its network. Once BT applies the cease they will be able to sign up to a new provider.

The firm said the volume of calls it was receiving from stranded V21 users forced the latest action. Biscit statements have directed V21 customers to NetServices by publishing telephone numbers and email addresses. A NetServices spokeswoman said: "We're trying to act in a slightly more professional manner." She accused Biscit of media manipulation and spreading "false information".

A "rescue" package put together with Leeds-based business ISP 186K directed V21 users to a walled garden which offered them the chance to sign up for a year's contract. The only alternative available was to wait until NetServices applies the bulk cease on November 24, which in turn can take two weeks.

NetServices added: "We genuinely understand users are innocent victims in this. At the end of the day they're not our customers though." She told us because it was a wholesaler not set up to generate MACs, it would have taken NetServices several months to generate codes for the 9,000 V21 punters caught up in the dispute.

The long-running and obscure dispute, over "burst bandwidth charges" was carried over from V21 when it was acquired by fellow retail ISP Biscit earlier this year.

Punters have been confused by their lack of rights in the dispute. Biscit, which acquired V21 earlier this year, has been saying they should apply to NetServices for their Migration Authorisation Codes (MACs). The wholesaler says it is unable to provide MACs as it would be in breach of its contract with V21.

Biscit's threatened legal action against NetServices has yet to materialise. Biscit's statements have said they are seeking "substantial damages" over the affair. NetServices said its own lawyers had been working on the V21 issues for a month, and were yet to hear from Biscit. Its spokeswoman said: "It's like: 'Come on then! Where are they?'"

The story, which broke on The Register has generated considerable adverse publicity for all the players. Ordinary customers have been caught in the middle, with regulators apparently powerless to act.

Ofcom yesterday said it had received hundreds of complaints about this latest broadband fiasco. Spokesman Simon Bates said the regulator had not begun any investigations into the complaints yet, but may if there was "evidence of consumer harm".

Ofcom plans to release a statement before Christmas based on its ongoing consultation about provision of MACs. Ofcom told The Register the current situation is unsatisfactory and in general, it thinks someone should be forced to provide MACs. Any recommendations would be in place by February

NetServices latest statement is here. Biscit did not respond to requests for comment. ®

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