The BBC is reporting that schools across London are being prevented from receiving emails from a company that wants to compete for their broadband contract.
London Grid for Learning – the council organisation which negotiates broadband contracts for 2,500 schools in the capital – has admitted that it is blocking emails from Exa Networks, a firm which supplies a similar service.
“It’s just wrong, it’s anti-competitive,” Mark Cowgill, Exa’s chief executive, told me.
Mr Cowgill has complained to the Competition and Markets Authority and said he also had evidence that unfair pressure had been applied to schools to quickly renew their broadband deals with LGfL.
LGfL said it had blocked emails after a mailshot from Exa, which its network had detected as spam, and insisted it acted in the best interest of schools. But Mr Cowgill denied his firm’s messages were spam and said emails were only sent to London schools after initial contacts had been made.
Then Exa staff found that they were getting no responses and teachers confirmed the emails had never arrived. “It’s not allowing schools to make sure they get value for money,” Mr Cowgill told me.
“How can they, if they can’t compare different offers?”
A five-year deal agreed in 2011 between LGfL and Virgin Media to supply broadband across the capital is now up for renewal, and schools are being advised in strong terms that they should sign up for another five years.
The BBC has seen a memo sent to schools in Ealing by a council IT consultant telling them “beware of offers from companies such as Schools Broadband, RM, Exa, etc.”
It then says, “if you ARE stubbornly still tempted to waste your time looking elsewhere…”, before going on to claim that no rival can offer the same service that LGfL and its partners can provide.
The document ends: “Easiest decision you ever need to make!”
The email is written by Mark Robinson, who as well as being an IT consultant for Ealing Council is a director of LGfL…
At the end of last week, after being asked about its tactics, LGfL sent another letter to schools apologising for putting them under pressure to renew their broadband deals.
“We think we made a mistake,” the letter said. “And gave too little information about timescales for response, putting unnecessary pressure on schools.”
But the charitable trust still said that by coming together to buy broadband and other IT services the schools were getting more for less and it urged them to continue to trust LGfL.
Are you surprised or concerned by the apparent approach being taken by LGfL here, or are they within their rights to fight for the business like this in a competitive market?
Please give us your reactions in the comments or via Twitter…
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