BT U-turns on pricing, set to slash Net charges

BT cracks under pressure and looks set to do a dramatic U-turn next week by offering cheaper data calls

British Telecom looks set to cut Internet access charges as early as next week by offering data-only telephone numbers in a dramatic U-turn on pricing.

The telco hinted Tuesday that it was looking at a new structure for data calls, including calls to the Internet, that will probably be cheaper than voice calls. In the past BT has maintained it could not offer Internet users cheaper prices, arguing it would unfairly differentiate between voice and data users. It also claimed such a move would break its licensing agreement, a position maintained last week by BT but denied by the telecoms watchdog, Oftel.

In an interview with ZDNet UK News, a BT spokeswoman accepted the recent criticisms aimed at her organisation over Net access charges and suggested a solution: "If we had a new number range for data calls, that could address the problem," she said.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) sources suggests BT is readying such a tactic with an announcement expected early November.

BT's apparent change of heart may be the result of growing calls for cheaper access from industry giants such as AOL which recently accused the telco of ripping off its users. Last month the e-Minister Patricia Hewitt, joined the calls and promised to put pressure on Oftel to force change.

"No-one disagrees with the objectives of reducing the cost of Internet calls to help e-commerce and UK plc," said the BT spokeswoman. "We are talking to Oftel and the government about the best way to achieve that goal."

A DTI spokesman told ZDNet News that BT "is going to make some kind of announcement" early next week. BT remained tight-lipped but commentators are not predicting unmetered access will be on the agenda for the near future.

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