AOL top brass tears into 'rip-off' BT

European president lambasts BT and asks for unmetered Internet access

The European president of the world's largest ISP has accused BT of "ripping off customers" and warned that unless online charges are slashed, Britain's chances of competing in the online revolution would be lost.

Andreas Schmidt of AOL Europe launched an unrelenting attack on BT and other European operators during his keynote at the Jupiter Consumer Online Forum in London Tuesday. He called on the government to put immediate pressure on BT and other operators to give users unmetered access to the Internet.

Schmidt's comments will take place alongside a growing list of attacks on BT's online pricing which have seen heavyweight support from various sectors including the Times newspaper which recently launched its own unmetered access campaign. Said Schmidt: "We are looking to the government to remove the obstacle of pay-per-minute access which was invented for voice calls only. At the moment, all the money ends up in the hands of the telecom operators who are ripping off consumers."

Digging the knife still deeper, Times Interface editor, Alan Copps, suggests BT's pricing strategy is a barrier to people living the life Tony Blair wants for UK citizens. He argues that while the government enthuses over the Internet revolution "telephone calls are too high. I have no doubt," said Copps. "BT is not helping the government."

But despite the pressure, BT argues it offers the best deal for Net users. "This is an emotive subject," said a spokesman. "We are continuously looking at ways to make Internet use cheaper." The spokesman could not give details of when Internet use would be made cheaper.