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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 22:06 GMT 23:06 UK
Thousands of surfers 'to be cut off'
Tiscali webpage with logos
About 20,000 internet surfers face having phone services cut off, after failing to respond to a warning to change providers, BBC News Online has learned.

One third of people who signed up to a joint internet-and-phone package offered by World Online have yet to switch telephone line providers, a month after being warned of a service shutdown.

And the company which is being offered as an alternative, cross-utilities provider Servista.com, says they have until the end of Wednesday to make the switch or risk have their phone cut off.

"People can contact us after Wednesday, but we cannot guarantee continuous service.

"In other words, people may have their phone cut off before we have a chance to connect them to our service.

"It cannot just be done overnight. And 20,000 people is an awful lot to have their phone services cut off."

The 60,000 customers who had signed up to the deal were sent letters last month warning that, following World Online's takeover by Italian internet giant Tiscali, the telephone part of the deal would be withdrawn on 12 July.

Surfers, many of whom were outraged by the move, were advised to transfer to Servista.com, switch back to British Telecom, or seek an alternative phone firm.

But about 20,000 customers have yet to source an alternative, an insider told BBC News Online.

A Servista spokeswoman said: "People have either just not known about it until they received the letter or they have not read their e-mails."

Special unit

Neither Servista.com nor BT had figures for the number of World Online customers they had managed to attract.

But the cut off has represented a major opportunity for Servista.com, which held talks with World Online in April, and has set up a special unit to deal with switch-overs.

The firm was founded two years ago as internet-based provider of gas, electricity and telecoms services.

BT said it "welcomed back" World Online customers.

"As the ad says, thousands of people are coming back to BT," a company spokesman told BBC News Online.

BT is not allowed by watchdogs to actively target World Online customers or offer them preferential rates.

Under pressure

Tiscali has come under pressure to make savings after spending more than 4.1bn euros (2.5bn) becoming one of Europe's largest internet service providers.

United Business Media and British Telecom sold LineOne, one of Britain's best known ISPs, to Tiscali in April for a fraction of its valuation at the height of the internet boom.

Tiscali, now the second biggest ISP in Europe and the fourth largest in the UK, paid 62.5m in cash and shares for a business once valued at more than 1bn.

Tiscali acquired LibertySurf, a French ISP, in January and World Online in December.

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See also:

28 Jun 01 | Business
Customer anger at World Online
15 May 01 | Business
Tiscali slashes losses
29 Apr 01 | Business
Who rules Europe's net landscape?
26 Apr 01 | Business
Tiscali snaps up LineOne
08 Jan 01 | Business
Italy's Tiscali buys Liberty Surf
08 Dec 00 | Business
Tiscali bid secures World Online
07 Sep 00 | Business
Tiscali pays $5bn for World Online
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