Red Hot Ant halts unmetered signup

Internet service provider burns BT over Friaco confusion

Internet service start-up Red Hot Ant has stopped accepting new customers for its unmetered access service and blames the freeze on confusion over the rollout of BT's unmetered package for ISPs, Friaco (Flat Rate Internet Access Call Origination).

Red Hot Ant halted sign up to its service on 1 January but says that customers who signed up in 2000 will have access to the service as long as their annual subscription lasts. "We hope that our current loyal customers continue to enjoy the RedHotAnt service until their expiry dates and we apologise for any inconvenience that may have been caused," reads a statement posted to the company's home page, www.redhotant.com.

Company director Bob Garrioch says that BT has been unclear about when Friaco would become available and has set the cost of the service at a point that makes it difficult for smaller ISPs to compete.

Friaco was announced last year to give ISPs greater access to BT's infrastructure before the telecommunications company opens its local loop to competition later in 2001.

However, a number of ISPs, including World Online and AltaVista, have postponed plans to deliver unmetered services, pointing to Friaco delays and uncertainty.

"We want to find out definitely what is happening," says Garrioch. "We're delivering the best service we can at the moment to existing customers.

Red Hot Ant will review the situation in February, Garrioch says, and he does not think it will have to stop new users from signing up forever. "What we're doing now is maximising our network. In the long term it's better for us," he says.

Like many ISPs, Red Hot Ant had difficulty meeting initial demand for its unmetered service following its launch in March 2000. ZDNet received numerous complaints from customers at the time although one customer who contacted ZDNet this week says Red Hot Ant's service has improved dramatically since then.

BT was unavailable for comment at time of posting.

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