'

Oftel: UK consumers have cheapest Internet prices

Consumers may be benefiting from cheaper prices but businesses are not

UK consumers have some of the lowest Internet prices in Europe according to new research published by Oftel Wednesday.

Both off-peak and peak Internet access in UK households is the cheapest of the European countries surveyed. Mobile prices were also compared and only Germany had significantly lower prices -- a fact Oftel attributes to larger handset subsidies there. Businesses, however, do not get such a great deal. Metered business access is the second most expensive in Europe.

Oftel admits higher prices in the business market is an indication that competition is not working as well there as in the residential market. The higher level of service demanded by businesses could also be a factor it says. "You could argue that because prices are higher there is less competition," says an Oftel spokesman.

In general, Oftel director general David Edmonds is proud of the results and is confident the UK is now comparable with the US for narrowband access.

"The range of choices for Internet access has grown and UK consumers now pay roughly the same as, or less than, those in the US states for unmetered Internet access." However only two US states -- Ohio and California -- were included in the survey and California was found to be cheaper than the UK.

The government is keen to see broadband prices in the UK fall in line with those in the US as quickly as possible. Oftel is currently undertaking an international survey of broadband prices and is confident it will show the UK has "favourable prices".

European countries compared with the UK were France, Germany, Italy (mobile only), and Sweden. Oftel denies that this is an insufficient amount to get a true picture of Internet prices across Europe. "We don't have the resources to do the whole of Europe," says a spokesman for the watchdog. "We looked at the major European competitors, the ones we felt had similar market conditions. We didn't go for the easy options."

How can you get online for less? Find out in the Unmetered Access Special.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.