Pressure mounts in BT fight with cable companies

Pressure was mounting last night on BT, the dominant telecoms operator, in the wake of further accusations that it had run a "dirty tricks" campaign to win back customers who had switched to cable.

A further seven formal complaints were passed on to Oftel by cable operators late last week, of which at least six involved accusations of tele-marketing of cable ex-directory customers by BT staff, in breach of the Telecommunications Act.

Oftel, which is pressing for wide competition powers to regulate BT's activities, confirmed last night that the additional complaints had been received, and said it would make a statement today or tomorrow.

Until now, BT has claimed that ex-directory customers had been contacted due to a computer glitch, and that no one had been addressed by his or her name. However, the most recent cases involved tele-marketing by name, according to copies of the statements seen by the Independent.

According to one statement from an ex-directory customer, the individual arrived home to a message from a BT salesperson, who used the customer's name and asked that the call be returned. "Then I rang them back and said, 'I've never been on BT. What are you on about? And by the way, where have you got my number from?' They answered cable."

In another statement, the cable customer asked how the BT tele-marketer had got the phone number. The individual claims to have been told that the cable company had provided it, but that it was for emergency services only. "I've never been on BT," the customer claims to have said. "The operator then apologised."

In a third case, a cable customer contacted directly by the Independent said she had been called by BT and asked to consider switching back. She said last night that the BT employee had addressed her by her last name.

When asked how BT had got the ex-directory number, she said the tele- marketer responded: "I don't know how they got it, I was just given it."

A BT spokesman said last night: "We have not had any case where an individual is an ex-directory customer who has been addressed by name." But he added he would not talk about individual cases. "We simply can't keep taking these darts of innuendo and scuttlebutt" from the cable industry, he said.

More than 50,000 customers a month have been deserting BT in favour of services offered by cable companies. Competition in the industry has intensified strongly in the last month as large cable companies have cut prices sharply.

Penetration rates achieved by cable companies in some areas have been as high as 60 per cent, posing a big threat to BT's core business.