British broadband providers are offering to slash customers' bills by more than two-thirds if they threaten to switch to another supplier in the latest sign of the fierce competition in the market.

These cut-price deals are not publicized, but the companies will pull them out of the bag to prevent loyal customers signing up with rivals.

It has long been common for consumers to barter with their existing mobile-phone or mortgage firms before they quit to try to get a better deal, but it now seems that the practice will soon become commonplace with broadband.

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Mark Pavlika, 35, a human-resources worker who lives in north London, was offered a discount of more than two-thirds on his digital television, broadband and telephone package with cable-television provider NTL (NTLI) after he threatened to leave for rival Sky, Britain's leading satellite-television provider.

Pavlika, who had been with NTL for six years, had gradually upgraded from having NTL digital television to NTL broadband and landline, costing him 62 pounds a month, about $115 at current currency-conversion rates.

Two weeks ago, Sky cold-called Pavlika pushing its free broadband service. Pavlika decided to inform NTL of the offer.

"I just called them and said I was thinking of moving," he said. "A woman said she would talk to their 'customer retention' department.

"About 10 minutes later she came back and said they would offer broadband, television and landline for 20 pounds [$38] a month because I was such a loyal customer."

"I'm a firm believer in haggling. This is one of those situations where if you don't ask, you don't get. The market is so competitive at the moment that I think there are bargains to be had."

A spokeswoman for NTL said it did not automatically upgrade customers' accounts to cheaper deals.

"We assess each customer on a case-by- case basis. We would always recommend customers to check that they are getting the best deal," she said.

Chris Williams at Uswitch, a comparison firm, said broadband providers were reluctant to highlight cheap deals, so it was a good idea to call up and see what they would offer, especially since tariffs have tumbled.

In May 2005 NTL was charging $47 per month for 2-megabit-per-second broadband. Since then, this price has fallen by 28 per cent to $34.

Meanwhile, Telewest was charging $47 a month for 1MB broadband, whereas the cost now is only $28 for double the speed.

NTL Telewest, which is Britain's largest broadband provider since the merger of NTL Holdings and Telewest Global last year, also offers a four-in-one package, Quadplay, which offers broadband, cable television, home telephone and cell-phone service for $75 a month, including line rental. The deal is available to new customers.

Pipex, which charged $44 a month for broadband in September 2005, now charges only $28.

"The market is going through a period of hyper-competition," said Jason Lloyd of Moneysupermarket, another comparison firm. "Using tactics such as undercutting new deals offered by competitors to keep existing customers has become commonplace, especially among direct competitors. I advise consumers to compare the market, find the best deals and, once armed with this information, your first port of call should be your existing provider."

Experts say that broadband switching is now likely to become as normal as remortgaging, but if you decide to move, be careful of packages that lump together several different services.

Hundreds of thousands of people who have applied for packages from rival providers Talk Talk, Sky and Orange have experienced weeks of frustration trying to get connected.

In April Talk Talk launched "free" 8-megabit-per-second broadband for anyone who signed up for its Talk 3 international call plan.

This offers unlimited free local, national and international calls for $19 a month plus $21 line rental — a total of $40.

In July the offer was extended to its standard Talk 3 package, which offers unlimited free calls to U.K. landlines for $17 a month plus line rental — a total of $38.

However, pensioner Connie Lynne, 78, spent more than 15 hours on the phone to Talk Talk trying to get her broadband set up.

She first applied for Talk Talk's broadband in June, but the firm sent out two modems that didn't work. It was only last week that her service was up and running, although she still cannot receive e-mails.

Sky is offering free 2-megabit-per-second broadband to customers who pay at least $28.50 a month for its satellite-television programs, but you have to pay an extra $21 a month for BT line rental, so the minimum monthly cost is nearly $50.

Cellular-service provider Orange's package gives free broadband to mobile-phone customers who pay at least $57 a month on their monthly bill.

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