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Customer complaints
"They launched the service purely to grab the headlines"
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ASA's Chris Reed
"We're seeing an increasing number of problems"
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Barclay Knapp promises to service existing customers first
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Paul Quigley, Wireless Week
"This is technology gone mad"
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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
NTL tries to slow net demand
The company will not say how many are waiting
UK cable operator NTL has told the BBC it is going to stop advertising its completely free internet service because of the frustrations experienced by customers.

NTL has been overwhelmed by the demand for the service, which was launched ahead of schedule in April and promised users free calls, free subscription and free call connection.

It then walked into a public relations disaster by sending out some of its limited supply of registration software to new customers when it had promised existing clients that they would be given preferential treatment.

The company hopes a lower profile for NTLworld will help it get through the backlog of new and existing customers waiting for CDs.

'Quality service'

In a statement to the BBC, NTL said: "In a further effort to deliver NTLworld discs to customers who have already registered for the service, and prevent building up further demand, we have stopped advertising the service in the television, radio and print media."

The company said it was necessary to control the release of the software to maintain the "quality service" to those already surfing on NTLworld.

"We are determined to maintain a quality service and, as we have said from day one, are therefore controlling the rate at which our customers come online to NTLworld through a queuing system.

"We understand the frustrations of people who are currently waiting for their ntlworld disk, and rest assured we are committed to delivering NTLworld to as many people as soon as we possibly can."

Priority system

The BBC was inundated with e-mail from unhappy users on Tuesday who were incensed by NTL's behaviour and specifically the letter of apology it had sent out which included further promotional material.

Many were unhappy that NTL appeared to be chasing business by offering disks to new customers transferring from BT before customers already on NTL's books.

One e-mailer told BBC News Online: "As an existing customer who ordered the service on the day it was announced nearly three months ago, I know for a fact that there is no such priority system.

"I know many BT customers who received their CD's from NTL weeks or months ago,"

Switching services

This experience was at odds with the words of Barclay Knapp, the boss of NTL, when he launched NTLworld.

"We're going to give priority to our own customers - customers already on our service - but we believe we will have plenty of capacity to take all comers," he told BBC Radio 5Live on 7 March (Listen to audio attached to this page).

But the problems have also upset those transferring from BT and other telecoms operators.

"Originally I was looking to switch to Sky Digital," new NTL customer Sharon Clancy told the BBC. "But it was the sole promise of the free internet calls that made be switch to NTL when I did."

Advertising standards

The Advertising Standards Authority has also stepped into the row. It has told NTL that any future advertising should make it clear that existing clients will not have priority and anyone hoping to sign up to the service should expect a long wait.

"Free internet access is such a boom area at the moment that we are seeing more and more complaints about print ads and online ads, which we also regulate," said the authority's Chris Reed.

NTL's free internet announcement marked another stage in the increasingly fierce battle to dominate the market in Britain.

It followed an offer from Altavista to provide unlimited access for 10 a year. Further offers were then announced by BT and Freeserve.

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See also:

07 Mar 00 | Business
NTL's rapid growth
06 Mar 00 | Business
Altavista heralds net revolution
25 Jan 00 | Business
NTL buys into Aston Villa
07 Mar 00 | Business
Battle for the internet
14 Mar 00 | Business
Freeserve unmetered move
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