The dawn of a "people's Net" was heralded today as cable company Telewest launched its £10 a month unmetered access service, SurfUnlimited.
The launch of the service means Telewest has beaten BT in the race to become Britain's first operator to offer unlimited Internet use for a flat monthly fee. BT's Surftime is yet to get off the ground and -- at £35 a month for unlimited access -- has been heavily criticised for being too expensive. SurfUnlimited has already been lauded as the first realistic mass market unmetered service.
Telewest's marketing director, Philip Jansen, believes unmetered access will kickstart an online revolution. "To date, operators have rationed the Internet by charging every minute. We're changing that, so it can now truly be the people's Net," he says. "Freedom from worrying about cost will dramatically change the way people use the Net."
SurfUnlimited blows BT Surftime out of the water, according to moderator of the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications, Alastair Scott. "We believe BT Surftime has been hopelessly undermined," he says. "In fact, we see little reason for anyone living in a Telewest area to even consider BT Surftime -- irrespective of what form it finally takes."
Scott is hopeful that SurfUnlimited will prove a benchmark for other operators. "It is the sort of tariff we have been campaigning for, for 18 months," he says.
That view is shared by research firm Durlacher Monday. A study of 4,000 households in the UK confirmed that lack of unmetered access is "dramatically" holding back Internet growth. Its survey claims people would stay online three times longer, and Net use would increase by 46 percent if per-minute charges were removed.
BT is quick to defend itself in the light of the Durlacher report, and maintains that telecoms watchdog Oftel wouldn't allow it to offer a service for £10 per month as it would be seen as anti-competitive. Oftel disagrees, claiming that it would look at any new tariff BT puts on the table.
SurfUnlimited won't be available across the whole UK, however. Telewest cable passes around four and a half million homes in the South East, Bristol and the Midlands. Customers will have to get a Telewest phone line (£9.99), pay an additional £9 per month line rental and spend a minimum of £10 in that time on non-Internet calls.
Telewest currently has 1.6 million customers and claims it has 15,000 users pre-registered for the service.
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