ISPs clash in Friaco row

BT stands accused of providing ISPs with an unacceptable service that has made them unable to cater for users of unmetered Internet packages

A row broke out over the weekend in the ISP scene over the reliability of Friaco -- the tariff that makes unmetered Internet access commercially viable.

St Friaco, or Single tandem Flat-rate Internet access call origination, makes it possible for ISPs to offer unmetered Internet access products without being driven towards bankruptcy by heavy users.

UK ISP CloudNine launched a fierce attack on BT last Friday, alleging that the telco was failing to provide it with an acceptable service. CloudNine claimed that 20 percent of users have recently been suffering significant problems when trying to dial up to the Web -- including receiving engaged tones and being unable to log onto their account.

CloudNine blamed these problems on the connection supplied to it by BT. "The Friaco delivery platform is a disgrace," raged the ISP in a statement. "We have checked other ISP's forums and are seeing the same problems reported on nearly all Friaco delivery services," it added.

Within a day, though, another ISP had leapt to BT's defence -- insisting that it wasn't finding any significant problems with Friaco. "While we of course sympathise with any ISP that is experiencing service affecting problems of this scale, we simply cannot agree that Friaco is anything but a resounding success as far as PlusNet is concerned," said Alistair Wyse, product and services director of PlusNet.

Before it was introduced last year, several ISPs ran into difficulties after signing up customers for their unmetered access schemes. While the users only paid a fixed monthly fee for Internet use, the ISP was still forced to pay BT for every minute a customer spent online.

Unmetered Internet access is seen as one way of encouraging users onto broadband. The argument is that once you see how great the Net is when you aren't being charged for every minute online, you're more likely to pay an extra £25 to £30 per month for a much faster connection.

CloudNine is threatening to take its complaints to Oftel, over what it claims is "a national disgrace". It says its problems began on 19 October, after what BT claims was a network failure. CloudNine is refusing to believe this, and suspects that BT has made changes to the Friaco platform to benefit BTopenworld customers at the expense of those of other ISPs.

BT has denied this claim -- and PlusNet is adamant that Friaco is still working well. "We simply are not seeing any such level of problem to our unmetered services but rather the opposite, receiving many, many compliments and testimonials in both public discussion forums and directly from our user base," said Wyse.

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