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Events in telecommunications history


The Putting Customers First programme was unveiled on 6 January in the North West of England. It was followed by national implementation on 30 March.

The programme aimed to transform customer perceptions of the company, and was based on a range of initiatives dealing with BT's responsiveness to its customers, value and quality of service. Related initiatives the previous year, such as the Customer Options range of call discounts schemes, the revised Customer Service Guarantee and the BT Commitment, preceded it.

A new transatlantic fibre optic cable (TAT 9) came into service linking the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Spain. The cable measured 9,000 kilometres in length and was able to carry the equivalent of 80,000-voice calls simultaneously, twice the capacity of TAT 8.

The TAT 10 transatlantic telephone cable was laid, linking the USA, Germany and Holland.

BT launched the Option 15 discount scheme in January of this year. The scheme originally entitled customers to up to a 10 per cent reduction in the cost of direct dialled local, regional, national and international calls for a charge of £4 per month. The scheme was aimed at customers who consistently spent more than £73 per quarter.

From 28 June 1995 Option 15 discounts, as with all BT's residential option packages, applied to calls made from any phone line at the same address, providing they appeared on the same bill.

From 1 October 1995, along with other BT discount schemes, the discount on calls to information and entertainment services, and calls made to mobile phones was reduced to 5 per cent. This recognised that BT retains only part of the revenue from these calls and passes a substantial portion on to the other companies which provide these services. However, Friends & Family customers could now include a mobile number as one of their nominated numbers for the first time , thereby gaining a reduction in call charges to a mobile phone which from 1 April 1996 was increased from 5 to 10 per cent.

BT reduced the quarterly fee for Option 15 from £4 to £3.39 from 1 July 1997. When combined with BT's free Friends & Family scheme, Option 15 gave savings of 20 per cent on calls to the nominated numbers. This was later increased to 21 per cent when the Option 15 discount was increased to 11 per cent.

From 1 November 1998, BT reduced the quarterly fee for Option 15 from £3.39 to £3.20. This represented a decrease of 5.6 per cent per quarter.

The "Get Through to Someone" advertising campaign ran from this year until 1994, featuring a series of real life occurrences, such as a college girl calling home.

Marine-Page was launched to provide a low-cost means of ship-to-shore paging and messaging service used to contact ships in the North Sea using medium frequency radio.

Videophone was demonstrated at the Ideal Home Exhibition in March, enabling customers to see as well as hear the person on the line. It became available to the public as the Relate 2000 later in the year.

BT completed the conversion of its 5,500 public payphones in Wales from their old livery in April, giving them a bilingual identity. The project was completed in under a year following a pledge made at Caernarfon in July 1991.

BT unveiled a multi-million pound investment programme for its Global Network Services (GNS). GNS was a portfolio of managed data network services, launched in 1990, which covered 107 countries and at this time was directly provided and supported by BT on an end-to-end basis in 23 countries. GNS and its portfolio were subsequently absorbed into the Concert joint venture company in 1994.

The investment programme in this year included a substantial geographical expansion of the Services, and the introduction of a new high speed Frame Relay connection for data applications, such as the interconnection of local area networks.

Frame Relay was a new data communications protocol, using new high-speed packet switching technology to handle data traffic with high peaks and requiring high volume throughput between a number of geographically dispersed sites, for example the interconnection of local area networks nationally and internationally. The new high speed frame relay connections allowed customers to transmit data at rates up to two million bits of information per second (2Mbit/s). This was a considerable improvement on the existing 56/64 Kbit/s transatlantic frame relay service already offered by BT, which was the first such service in the world.

A redesigned telephone bill was issued to customers nationally from October, setting all the information out in clearer, simpler terms and designed to reduce confusion over charges.

The 100,000th BT payphone was installed at Dunsop Bridge near Clitheroe in Lancashire. The site was chosen as being the village nearest to the centre of Great Britain.

BT ran the Sunday Special promotion during November and December. National direct dialled calls between 3pm and midnight on Sundays were charged at the local cheap rate.

BT established a network of 13 Malicious Calls Bureaux throughout the country, operated by teams of specially trained investigators who worked closely with the police. Concerned customers had only to ring one 0800 number to be put through automatically to the nearest bureau.

It was estimated at the time that 15 million malicious calls were made every year, one call in every 20,000. BT received 250,000 requests for help from customers receiving such calls before the Bureaux were introduced.

By 1997, and the fifth anniversary of setting up the Bureaux, BT had assisted more than 3 million customers who were being harassed by malicious calls.

One million customers had received advice or a leaflet from BT and a further 800,000 had their telephone number changed free of charge. Of the remaining 1.2 million cases, a quarter involved setting up tracing equipment at the request of the police, resulting in the source of more than six million individual calls being successfully identified.

A third of the cases with police involvement resulted in either a prosecution or a formal police caution. Since early 1996 the Bureaux had extended their work to handle malicious and hoax calls to the 999 operators and to the emergency services. In addition, there were growing numbers of cases where customers were called in error, particularly by wrongly programmed fax machines, modems or autodiallers. Some of these latter calls are made by equipment such as refrigeration units, traffic lights or boilers ringing a control centre to report an alarm situation. By tracing the source of the calls, the Bureaux not only ensured that the unwanted calls stopped, but that the company or organisation responsible for the equipment identified an error in what could have been potentially critical circumstances.

Making malicious calls is a criminal offence under Section 43 of the Telecommunications Act (1984). When the Malicious Calls Bureaux started, the maximum penalty was a fine of £400, later raised to £1,000. In 1995, the penalty on summary conviction was raised to a fine of up to £5,000 and - for the first time - a custodial sentence of up to six months was introduced.

In June 1997, the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) came into force and a person convicted under Section 2 of the Act henceforth faced a possible restraining order to prevent re-offending. Any subsequent breach of the restraining order could have resulted in imprisonment for a term of up to five years.

The Internet Society was chartered. This was the genesis of the World Wide Web.

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