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Consumers want flat-rate ISPs - report

Most consumers would switch from 'free' ISP service to flat-rate subscriptions, finds a new survey

A "strong majority" of consumers would switch back to subscription-based ISPs if unmetered access became a norm in the UK, a major Internet survey revealed Thursday.

The Internet user profile survey -- conducted by NOP -- found that most users would abandon free access ISPs in favour of subscription-based services if they were offered unlimited Internet access for a fixed fee. 18,000 consumers took part in the survey. The NOP poll comes hot on the heels of a survey from Durlacher which predicted Internet use would triple if the UK went unmetered.

NOP's Internet research director Richard Jameson believes Web usage would go skyrocket if unmetered tariffs became widely available. "There is no doubt in my mind that access would be boosted by unmetered access. Web usage increased 68 percent after free access was introduced. There would be at least a similar level of growth with unmetered," he said. "A strong majority would switch back to subscription packages."

Freeserve is widely credited with starting the Internet gold-rush in the UK when it became the first UK ISP to drop subscription charges two years ago. Now it is considering going back to subscription-based packages. "If people are going to save money by pre-paying a fixed telephony fee, then they will," a Freeserve spokesman acknowledges. "We are working on an unmetered package. We would like to guarantee our users a certain price for telephone calls."

The ISP is currently considering BT's Surftime offer.

The spokesman was keen to point out that subscription charges would not be forced on users. "If you are only going on the Internet for 15 minutes [a month], you may not want to use an unmetered service. We are not going to say you have to pay. That was not our original proposition," he said.

Freeserve is firmly backing the campaign to get the local loop unbundled ahead of the July 2001 deadline. Gordon Brown put the issue in the headlines this month when he claimed the timetable needed to be speeded up. "We welcome Gordon Brown's comments. We would like to see unbundling happen sooner," the Freeserve spokesman said.

With the local loop freed up, ISPs dependence on BT would be ended as they would be able to offer services through other telecoms operators. According to ISPA (Internet Service Providers Association), most ISPs are not happy with the price and structure of the Surftime service.

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