Phone users urge greater competition

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(First Edition)

THE SERVICES provided by British Telecom and Mercury could be vastly improved by introducing even more competition, the Telecommunications Users Association said yesterday.

A survey by the association found that 50 per cent of business users had access to Mercury. The majority of satisfied customers were in the Greater London area. But Mercury was described as a 'poor second' to BT in many other parts of the country, with severe congestion on lines and a lack of staff to sort out problems.

BT was criticised for its recent redundancy programme, Release 92, which had 'an adverse affect' on service. Charging for directory inquiries remained a major cause for concern, while BT's bills were seen as being over-complicated while lacking the type of information customers needed.

But the survey found some benefits resulting from competition, including a more 'responsive and efficient' BT and a more flexible approach to charges for business customers.

The association's chief executive, Vivienne Peters, said that 'the time has come to fan the fires of competition much more quickly if users are to see the full benefits from a liberalised environment'.

Mercury said it was pleased BT was seen as being more efficient because of competitive pressure. It disputed the figure for business users, saying 80 per cent of businesses had access to its services.

The TUA questioned 1,000 of its members on the quality of service provided by BT and Mercury since the 1984 Telecommunications Act, which ended BT's monopoly.