BT's new Net tariff gets the thumbs down

While the press fell for the hype, users and ISPs are not impressed

ISPs, users and analysts joined forces Wednesday to slate BT's move towards unmetered access as little more than a PR stunt.

The tariff is being touted by BT as a radical new scheme that will enable ISPs to finally offer unmetered access. It has been widely misinterpreted in the national press as offering users eight hours per day for a monthly fee of around £10. "They have got it wrong," says BT. "That figure is per port not per user." In reality the average time users can expect to get per month for £10 is 18 hours according to BT.

The telco claims ISPs will be able to go further than this, offering "unlimited dial-up charges" but was unable to elaborate on how, claiming that would reveal its wholesale prices which are "commercially sensitive". The spokesman advised ZDNet News to "ask the ISPs" whether they believed it was a good deal.

The same advice came from Adam Daum, senior telecoms analyst with GartnerGroup who points out that it is up to the ISPs to decide whether or not BT's new tariff is a positive step, but if his comments are anything to go by, the new tariff is in for a rough ride. "From what I can see, this is no different to what AOL has been offering recently" says Daum. "BT is forever saying 'ISPs can now offer flat rate access, as long as the ISP is prepared to make a loss.'" Daum goes further and accuses the telco of disingenuous tactics. "This is not flat rate, BT has simply repackaged its old tariffs."

As a free ISP, FreeCheck is exactly the type of provider BT is chasing with its new scheme. Mike Brown, FreeCheck's managing director agrees that the scheme offers nothing new. "As far as I can see it doesn't provide any benefit whatsoever. It allows BT to recover a little bit of PR. Considering the pressure on them, they want to be seen to be making the right noises. But underneath there is nothing there," he said.

So will FreeCheck be offering customers unlimited access for a flat-rate fee? As Daum suggests ISPs are more likely to charge more than £10 for 18 hours use or face losing money, according to Brown. He predicts the average monthly fee will be around £15 to £20. For users clocking up more than 18 hours, ISPs will have to turn the clock back on and charge per minute. "Otherwise they are not going to get any revenue and will be handing over a blank cheque to BT," he says.

AOL agrees. "This is definitely not flat-rate access. It is simply a repackaging of old tariffs," a spokesman told ZDNet News Tuesday.

UUNet, one of the country's largest ISPs was also critical. "Our initial reaction is that this is not as good as we would have liked," says a company spokesman. "In the long term this may be against the best interests of the consumer. It does look like they've [BT] got it wrong again".

Users are also unimpressed by the scheme. ZDNet News has received hundreds of emails from users pointing out that when 18 hours for £10 is broken down it amounts to a per minute charge of around 1p -- the same as current evening and weekend rates. Curiously, even BT admits the tariff will mainly benefit daytime Internet users. A spokesman explains: "It will provide significant discount for daytime rates but at weekends it is almost the same admittedly."

Often accused of not doing enough for the consumer, telecoms watchdog Oftel fell for the hype. "My understanding is that users will get nine hours a day for £10 which is a drastic cut," an Oftel spokesman admitted to ZDNet after reading Tuesday's report in the FT. So has Oftel worked out the sums for itself ? "We don't do sums, that is not part of our remit," he said.

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