Industry says unmetered access too expensive

Unmetered dial-up access good first step, now let's see the price drop says industry

Industry leaders and lobbyists have responded angrily to BT's announcement it will introduce unmetered Internet access. Their answer is simple -- it is too expensive.

BT Surftime will offer unlimited Internet access for a £34.99 monthly fee. A variety of packages offer users the chance for different levels of access.

There are five options:

  • Anytime Internet option -- a £34.99 per month charge for unlimited access at anytime, day, evening and night-time and weekend, plus any subscription price ISPs wish to charge.

  • Daytime Internet option -- a £26.99 per month charge for unlimited access during the day, Monday to Friday, plus any subscription price ISPs wish to charge.

  • Evening and night-time Internet option -- a £6.99 per month cahrge for unlimited access during the evening and night-time, Monday to Friday, plus any applicable ISP charge.

  • Weekend Internet option -- a £6.99 per month charge for unlimited access at the weekend plus any applicable ISP charge.

    For access outside the allotted time, users will pay one penny per minute in the evenings and two pence during the day.

One of BT's fiercest critics -- subscription-based ISP AOL -- has been campaigning for unmetered access for the last year. AOL is concerned that the Surftime offer will do little to encourage Internet use and may be anti-competitive. "While it is gratifying to see that BT has at last accepted the logic of what we at AOL have been saying for many months now, we're disappointed by the high cost proposed," said Andreas Schmidt, AOL's European CEO.

According to Schmidt, UK consumers will be paying almost twice the monthly cost of access in the US and warned that if prices did not come down it would create a "digital divide" in society. He also expressed concerns that ISPs would be forced to use BT as their operator. "This would prevent ISPs from negotiating competitive deals with different network providers. These issues raise serious questions about the potential for open competition which should warrant careful scrutiny by the UK regulator, Oftel," Schmidt said.

CUT (Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications) is not usually heard praising BT but did congratulate the telco on its decision to introduce unmetered access. However a spokesman claimed the pressure group is not out of a job yet. "We are pleased that BT is taking the lead, ahead of the cable companies but the price is too high," he said. CUT will now campaign to bring the price down to around £20 per month.

Ajay Chowdhury, managing director of LineOne, the free ISP of which BT is a shareholder echoed the sentiments of CUT. He believes £35 per month is "far too high for the average user".

BT admits the £35 tariff is not aimed at the average user but claims that even the weekend option will drive Net usage. "This is a direct response to criticism that Internet prices were an inhibitor to usage. That is clearly now not the case," he said.