Unmetered access is critical for the Internet economy according to a study from research firm IDC but analysts warn it is not going to happen overnight.
As the campaign for unmetered access gains powerful government and industry allies, IDC analyst James Eibisch claims that BT is not about to turn off the Internet access clock.
"It is difficult to see what will actually force them to change. Oftel isn't just on the consumer's side and if BT can make a reasonable case for maintaining charges they will take that into account," he said, pointing out that BT has managed to make that case until now. Eibisch predicts it will be 2001 -- when Oftel forces BT to unbundle its local loop network -- before unmetered access is introduced.
According to Eibisch, Internet access costs are the highest in Europe, largely a result of deregulation rules which allow BT to reduce international and other tariffs while maintaining the price of local calls. He is clear that the price of Net access is holding back the e-commerce revolution. "It is a very simple equation. The lower the cost of use, the higher the amount of use," he said.
Eibisch believes the myriad of alternatives to BT's pay-per-minute scheme -- from AOL's one pence per minute charges to screaming.net's free weekend and evening calls -- have confusing consumers but he is not sure the alternative would be any better. "If unmetered access was introduced now, the free services couldn't survive," he said. Not only would they lose the telephony income from calls, but would not be able to cope with traffic. "There is so much pent-up demand for unmetered access, usage would rocket and providers wouldn't be able to cope," he said.