BT has been forced by Oftel to scrap its unmetered Surftime service, and can no longer promise an unmetered Internet system by spring. Details are thin on its replacement -- called Surftime II.
Since its inception in December Surftime has been mauled by the Internet community, with consumer groups and analysts arguing that the original £34.99 price tag was too high for the mass market. It's unclear whether BT will be forced to lower the price of the Surftime II replacement offering.
Cable provider Telewest recently stole a march on the troubled telco when it launched SurfUnlimited at the beginning of the month.
A BT spokesman hinted that a spring launch date may be delayed: "Nothing is definite. We want to get it out in the spring, but that depends on discussions with the industry."
Under Oftel rules, BT has to offer a wholesale version of Surftime to other operators, but ISPs have been "incensed" by plans for the service, arguing that it unfairly advantaged the telco. In complaints to Oftel, ISPs accused the telco of unfair revenue splits and unworkable interconnect arrangements.
In a stiff rebuff, BT accused ISPs of "bellyaching" over the fact that Surftime would leave them reliant on advertising and e-commerce rather than telephony revenue. "ISPs can't have it both ways, collecting revenue from call charges and whinging to us about the need for unmetered," the spokesman said.
Long-term campaigner for unmetered Internet access, CUT (Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications), isn't surprised at Surftime's fate. "It was inevitable that BT's first proposal would put BT's interests first, but it clearly isn't right for them to offer a product that competitors can't offer," a spokesman said.
X-stream, the first UK ISP to introduce unmetered access, is equally scathing of Surftime. "It was a smoke and mirrors offering," says Paul Shalet, X-stream's commercial director. "BT gave the perception it was doing something for the industry, but under the skin, it was anything but cost effective. I am not surprised it is back to the drawing board," he said.
BT refused to discuss the changes it has made for its new Surftime II offering. The service will be scrutinised at a closed meeting between the telco and other operators at Oftel headquarters on Wednesday.