BT's SurfTime is a flop

Unmetered scheme has cost BT £100 per customer. Is SurfTime a total disaster?

Despite spending an estimated £20m on its marketing campaign BT has attracted just 200,000 users to its SurfTime service, it emerges Wednesday. The figure is well below BT's expectations and represents a significant embarrassment for the country's dominant telco.

SurfTime is BT's flagship unmetered service which has been dogged by controversy since its announcement in December last year. BT has to offer the service through independent ISPs and since the introduction of SurfTime at the beginning of June, only four ISPs were signed up, two of them related to BT: Freeserve, BT Internet, BT Click and PlusNet. Since then Demon Internet has also signed up.

BT says it is pleased with the figures and claims the spend is just part of a wider corporate strategy to promote Internet usage. "We only launched it in June, and July and August are traditionally holidays," says a BT spokesman.

Analyst with research firm GartnerGroup Adam Daum is surprised BT is happy with the numbers. "It is not a very impressive figure. If you do the sums, that represents a spend of £100 per user," he says. "Many ISPs have held back from signing up because it is not a true unmetered service and they want the real thing."

The best you can say for AltaVista is that it may honestly have thought it could provide a profitable unmetered offering. Most of its rivals believe that if it did, it was incompetent and Guy Kewney tends to agree. "The numbers involved are complicated, and it may be that they were simply unable to add them up," said one rival yesterday. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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