BT: SurfTime "could die a death"

BT's flagship unmetered offering looks decidedly leaky and even the telco admits it could die a death... Jane Wakefield reports

As SurfTime launches Thursday, BT (quote: BT) admits its flagship unmetered service could "die a death" following Oftel's decision Friday forcing it to simultaneously roll out an alternative.

Oftel effectively ended BT's dominance of the Internet market with the ruling which forces the telco to allow competitors to deliver their own unmetered services. Oftel's ruling follows complaints from rival telco WorldCom.

Today's launch of SurfTime sees BT having to roll out a cheaper, less complicated version of SurfTime alongside the original offering. This coupled with the fact SurfTime must compete with deals like ntl's free unlimited surfing offer has led experts to write the service's obituary.

Even BT seems resigned to failure. "If neither ISPs nor the public want it, it will die a death and so be it," says a spokesman.

AOL -- a vehement opponent of BT's unmetered efforts -- sums up the problems many providers had with SurfTime. "We have had technical and cost issues with SurfTime. It doesn't pay for the entire cost of the call and BT itself says there is a realistic assumption that ISPs will charge £10 over and above the original cost and on the eve of the launch those problems are not resolved," a spokesman says. He adds: "The question now is what is the consumer benefit of going with SurfTime?"

Analysts agree that the alternative (wholesale) version is going to be significantly cheaper -- both for ISPs and consumers.

Errol Ziya, spokesman for CUT (Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications) believes SurfTime will struggle to find a place in the new unmetered landscape. "SurfTime will either fade away or be radically overhauled. The numbers just never added up," he says.

Ziya suggests BT ended up being hoisted on its own petard. "It wanted to protect the last mile of its network with SurfTime. It tried to outmanoeuvre everyone else but ended up outmanoeuvring itself," he says.

The magic Internet access price established by Demon eight years ago when it was actually called Tenner A Month -- will give you unlimited evening and weekend access through your favourite ISP. Let Guy Kewney explain everything. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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