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Democratic phone network turns dictatorial

Giffgaff, the network run by... someone else

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A mobile network billed as being "run by you" is bowing to commercial pressure, adopting the more-dictatorial tone common to its competitors.

Giffgaff is a virtual network owned by Telefonica. While it runs in Telefonica's infrastructure, it promises cheaper costs though peer-support (instead of call centres), and tariffs discussed by the community – which is encouraged into activity with bribes for signing up mates and providing online support.

However, it has been forced to take a less matey stance by dropping its highest-cost tariff without consultation.

"Could we have consulted the community? The answer is of course yes, but then at the same time we can't consult on everything we do," says The Gaffer in a forum posting. Customers of the "user-run" network are told to "watch the blog" to find out what giffgaff will be offering as an alternative, presumably also without consultation.

The announcement came on giffgaff's first birthday, along with a promise of four months more free data and a block on numbers that claim to be mobile but aren't always so.

Despite some wobbles as that community formed, the project has been pretty successful. Customers seem to fall into two types: those enjoying the free data that comes with every bundle (originally offered for six months but already lasting for 12 and now extended for another four) and those searching for the cheapest way to make calls who've found giffgaff's bundles suit their needs.

But it is the most needy of that latter group, those prepared to pay £30 a month for unlimited calls and texts, whose tariff has been dropped. According to The Gaffer, that's 'cos fewer than 5 per cent of giffgaff customers were using it, though many customers are responding that 5 per cent should be enough and the forums are rife with customers threatening to leave.

It's the lack of consultation that has upset people more than the dropping of the tariff. Giffgaff expects customers to operate as sales staff, and it would be madness not to let your sales staff know about imminent changes to the tariffs. Many of the most-vocal forum users feel let down having sold giffgaff to their mates on the merits of the £30 unlimited tariff.

Ultimately, giffgaff is an MVNO owned by Telefonica, and competing with other low-cost MVNOs (such as Tesco, Asda and Virgin) would be next to impossible if one had to share future tariff plans with the world. Giffgaff might not really be a network run by its customers, but it is supported by them, and the forums demonstrate a sense of loyalty that other networks would be grateful for.

El Reg readers on the network seem mostly to be interested in the free data, and might not prove so loyal when the free data runs out at the end of February - unless that gets extended again. ®

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