BT challenged over business charge bias

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THE CONSUMERS Association has called for separate price controls for business and domestic telephone users. In a letter to the industry regulator, Oftel, the association says that, at present, businesses benefit most from price cuts.

Derek Prentice, assistant director of the association, said: 'We have become increasingly concerned about the way in which BT has been permitted to allocate a very high percentage of its regulatory cuts in a way that effectively benefits business users.'

Price regulation should work in favour of those who have little or no alternative to using BT and not to the advantage of business users, who have a choice, he said.

Under the existing regime, BT must keep prices on its basket of basic services to inflation minus 7.5 percentage points, but can adjust prices for different services within that constraint.

The Telecommunications Users Association has complained that domestic users suffer because BT targets its cuts at the business sector where its main rival, Mercury, has made the greatest inroads.

The Consumers Association also attacked BT for leaving customers out of pocket by bringing in price cuts late in the regulatory year, which runs from the end of July. It said that this strategy, and the practice of making many small announcements, meant that BT received maximum publicity with least benefit for consumers. It also protested that BT manages to give the impression that price changes are largesse rather than the result of regulation by Oftel.

Oftel has said that, from this year, BT must bring in price cuts in a way that ensures customers see the full benefit of the price cap.