BT makes further cut in national call costs

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British Telecom yesterday stepped up the price competition with rival cable operators by announcing a further 10 per cent cut in the cost of daytime national calls.

The latest reduction, together with a 4 per cent cut in the cost of daytime regional calls, will save domestic and business customers around pounds 90m a year and will give BT a common tariff for both national and regional calls.

The price cuts came as a survey endorsed by the telecoms industry regulator Oftel showed that BT is continuing to lag behind many of its competitors in terms of customer satisfaction.

BT scored 90 among residential customers for overall satisfaction with the service provided, compared with 96 for General Cable, 94 for Comcast, 92 for Nynex and 91 for Telewest. However, Mercury, now part of Cable & Wireless Communications, only scored 83. The survey covered the period from July to December last year.

BT scored higher marks for the percentage of orders completed on time than any of its competitors apart from General Cable and Telecential, and also experienced fewer customer-reported faults than most rivals.

However, the survey, compiled by the consultancy group P-E International, is limited in scope because not all operators take part and not all those that do are not obliged to provide the full data.

For business customers, BT's overall satisfaction rating was 84 per cent. That compares with 65 per cent for Mercury, 86 per cent for Telewest and 88 per cent for Videotron. The remaining companies failed to provide data.

Energis, the telecoms company owned by the National Grid and aimed at business users claimed that it had the UK's most satisfied customers, with fewer complaints about bills than BT and Mercury and fewer reported faults than any other national operator. But on the key indicator of overall service provision it was below the threshold number of lines.

Don Cruickshank, director-general of communications, said the publication of the performance indicators marked another step along the road to a more customer-focused approach by the telecoms industry.

But he said he was disappointed at the number of operators who had failed to take part, adding that he would highlight this in future if it continued to be the case.

The price cuts announced by BT will reduce the standard tariff for a daytime national or local call to 7.9p a minute. The reduction will take effect from 29 May and follows the 10 per cent cut in national daytime calls introduced last October.

However, rival operators pointed out that their charges were still lower than BT. Long Distance International said its national call charges were 4.5p a minute for small businesses and 4.1p a minute for large corporate customers. It said it planned to enter the domestic market later this year.