Tuesday 1/10/2002Information wants to be free! But BT would rather go back to the days when it cost five pence a minute.

Tuesday 1/10/2002
Information wants to be free! But BT would rather go back to the days when it cost five pence a minute. At least, that's the feeling I get from the announcement that BTopenworld is about to slash the amount of 'unmetered' Net access you get from its Anytime and Surftime products. Not that 'unmetered' and 'unlimited' ever meant what they normally mean in the real world. Unlimited actually meant "no more than twelve hours a day" for Anytime users -- so that's anytime except half the day -- and now means "no more than 150 hours a month". Which by my calculation adds up to somewhat less than 5 hours per diem. BT says that this is just about the same as it was before and still virtually unmetered. Virtual balderdash: such statements are as fake as the "FREE CHATLINE!" adverts in the back of the newspapers that explain in the small print that they mean you pay at national rate, not at five zillion quid a nanosecond. It's quite possible that the way BT's business model is set up, it's impossible to provide wholesale unmetered access without restrictions. Whether this means we should give up on unmetered calls as a concept, or just lean heavily on BT to stop trying to scamper back into its Imperial past, is a matter for discussion. But it -- and the other 'unmetered' providers who cap you and then throw you off if you take them at their word -- should stop pretending they're selling one thing while doing something quite different. I note that Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of BT, chooses today to tell us that BT wants to win its way into the hearts of its customers. "Do we have the patience and focus to build a real relationship with the customer?" he asks. Well, real relationships need truth and trust. Perhaps he could start with Openworld.