Concert customers left anxious by joint venture's demise

Customers of Concert, the international joint venture between BT and AT&T whose demise was announced this week, face considerable...

Customers of Concert, the international joint venture between BT and AT&T whose demise was announced this week, face considerable uncertainty.

Concert was set up in 1998 to cater for the telecommunications needs of multi-national companies, small carriers and Internet service providers.

It will be disbanded at the end June 2002 when BT and AT&T will re-assume control of the assets each contributed to the joint venture, including customer contracts, international transport facilities and gateways.

Concert's 270 multi-national customers will go to either company depending on geography or customer requests. In addition, AT&T and BT will work together to provide an "orderly unwind" for Concert's customers, and existing contracts and service level agreements will be honoured for three years.

Analysts however remain sceptical as to whether an "orderly unwind" can be achieved. When Concert was originally set up, there was considerable confusion surrounding the transfer of AT&T and BT customers to Concert.

Mark Blowers, senior research analyst with Butler Group, said: "Despite reassurances by both companies, there are bound to be issues about contracts and who has ownership of which customers."

Mike Cansfield, principal consultant with Ovum, agreed. He said: "There will be a degree of management problems. If you are a multinational company and you are used to dealing with Concert, you might now have to start dealing with BT in Europe and AT&T in the States."

Moreover, Blowers thought that Concert customers would experience some disruption during the transitional period.

"With AT&T and BT expecting 2,300 redundancies as they split Concert's network and customers between them, Concert customers won't be getting the level of support they will require," he said. "I can't see that there is going to be much incentive for the remaining staff to provide a good level of service when jobs are going at the end of the year."

Cansfield however, took a different perspective. "I expect the redundancies will fall in non-operational area, like accounts, because those functions can easily be performed by AT&T and BT, he said.

"At the operational level, I cannot see any disruption in service in the short term. BT and AT&T are more than capable of dealing with any operational issues that might arise."

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