19 June 2000

BT Cellnet, the wholly-owned subsidiary of British Telecommunications, is to be investigated by UK telecoms industry regulator Oftel. At issue is BT’s refusal to allow customers of rival internet portals to choose their provider’s home page when accessing the net via their mobile phone.

The probe follows a complaint from fledgling portal alleging that BTC has reprogrammed the best-selling Mitsubishi Trium handset to discourage rival content providers from competing with BT’s own portal, Genie. Unless customers are allowed to select Fonedata as their preferred home page, it loses the ensuing call revenues.

Says Fonedata managing director Simon Luttrell: “This is like having a radio you can't tune. It's a ridiculous situation.” But BTC is unabashed: "We don't make any secret of the fact that we direct people to our portal. Genie is the product of three years' investment. It makes business sense to encourage people to use it."

Responded Oftel: “We believe [WAP phone-users] should have proper access to other sites … I would not rule out early action if Cellnet is preventing customers from using alternative portals." Oftel is seeking further information from BT about the issue.

News source: Financial Times