BT moves to avert freephone logjams

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British Telecom is to bring forward plans to spend pounds 200m on improvements to its network, after some of its biggest customers complained that lines were swamped by calls this week.

The disruption began on Monday morning, as BT customers jammed freephone or low-cost numbers used by businesses such as insurance companies. BT attributed what it claimed was the "unprecedented" fourfold increase in freephone calls connected with storm damage and the two-week Christmas break. More than 10 million calls were made to 0800, 0345 and 0990 numbers on the BT network, with demand for lines soaring tenfold during the busiest period on Monday morning.

It emerged yesterday that Bill Cockburn, BT's recently appointed group managing director, has written personally to apologise to major business customers affected, who complained that many callers were unable to get through. The letter invited companies to join in plans to design improvements to the network.

Mr Cockburn insisted BT's services had a good track record. "The measures we are taking are aimed at ensuring that if ever such exceptional circumstances occur again, service will not be affected in the same way."

BT said it would spend pounds 110m upgrading its network in the financial year starting in April.