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Regulator wants consumer protection

BT ordered to cut landline-only charges

BTTelecoms regulator Ofcom wants BT to cut bills by at least £5 a month for those customers that only take a landline.

Ofcom said more than 2 million people buy only a landline telephone service and would see prices fall towards 2009 levels.

It said it has reviewed how the market is working for customers who buy only a landline service from a provider – either because they do not want broadband or pay TV, or because they take these services under separate contracts, usually from different companies.

“We have found that these customers – often elderly or vulnerable people who have remained with the same landline provider for decades – are getting poor value for money in a market that is not serving them well enough. 

Landline-only customers are particularly affected by price hikes in telephone line rental, said the regulator.

Major providers have increased their line rental charges significantly in recent years – by between 25% and 49% in real terms. This is despite providers benefiting from around a 26% fall in the underlying wholesale cost of providing a landline service.

Ofcom says its proposed price cut would mean that BT customers with only a landline, who currently pay £18.99 per month for line rental, would pay no more than £13.99 – a reduction of at least 26%.

The cut would return the cost of line rental to 2009 levels in real terms, effectively reversing price hikes for landline-only customers.

Ofcom isalso proposing safeguards to prevent BT from making future increases to line rental and landline call costs by more than inflation.

Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Line rental has been going up, even as providers’ costs come down. This hurts people who rely on their landline the most, and are less likely to shop around for a better deal. We think that’s unacceptable.

“So we plan to cut BT’s charge for customers who take only a landline, to ensure that vulnerable customers get the value they deserve.”

It says customers of ‘bundled’ services – packages including landline, broadband and/or pay TV – benefit from a range of attractive deals, driven by strong competition.

By contrast, offers for landline-only customers have become increasingly limited, with a number of providers withdrawing their telephone-only products altogether.

Almost 80% (2.3m) of the UK’s 2.9m landline-only customers are with BT. Ofcom has found that BT’s market power has allowed it to increase prices without much risk of losing customers. Other providers have then followed BT’s pricing lead.

Ofcom expects that our proposed cut in BT’s prices would lead to other providers following suit and reducing theirs. This would mean savings for landline-only customers across the market.

Ensuring value for money

Ofcom is proposing, and seeking views on, a range of £5-£7 per month for the cut to BT’s landline-only line rental. It will take into account the need to protect consumers, while also preserving competition and ensuring that competitors to BT can profitably attract new customers.

Ofcom also intends to require BT to trial different approaches for communicating with its landline-only customers. This is to help them better understand what they are paying, and how other BT packages – or even other providers – might offer better value for money.

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