UK consumers enjoy unmetered, look forward to broadband

Research shows unmetered is catching on and broadband is also in demand

Despite the collapse of many unmetered ISPs, 2.3 million homes are now using some form of unmetered access, according to telecoms watchdog Oftel.

It is not just narrowband access which is capturing the public's imagination either. Of the 7.5 million homes in the UK which have now got Internet access, a quarter are considering installing high speed ADSL within the year, the research finds.

This follows a week of crisis for broadband, in which the UK's two leading ISPs, Freeserve and AOL accuse BT of giving its broadband ISP unfair advantage and threaten legal action. Unbundling of the local loop -- which it was hoped would make broadband ADSL available more cheaply and widely -- is also facing something of a crisis with nine operators withdrawing from the process, blaming high cost and BT's tardy rollout.

Oftel is currently investigating both the amount of competition in the narrowband unmetered market and the claims of unfair use of monopoly in the broadband arena. It declines to comment until the investigations are complete later this month.

While the watchdog claims that the majority of Internet users are satisfied with the amount of choice available in the unmetered market, its research does not go into details of how many users each ISP has. BT claims to have half a million unmetered customers. World Online, AOL and Freeserve also offer an unmetered service whhich is based on a wholesale service from BT -- dubbed Friaco -- that the telco was forced to roll out at the end of last year.

The research from Oftel also found that only one in three people were aware of alternative fixed line suppliers who offer telecoms services via BT's lines. Director general David Edmonds acknowledges this. "A significant proportion of consumers aren't aware of the full range of choices available to them. This reinforces the need for Oftel's continued commitment to industry initiatives which provide consumers with information about the suppliers in their area and the potential savings they could make," he says in a statement.

The news that matters is not the puff, that BT expects to cover "half the population of the UK" with ADSL capability by early summer, and will have reached 70,000 subscribers by April. What Guy Kewney thinks matters is -- whether the various super-powers in the comms business can agree a way of doing business. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

Is broadband coming to your neighbourhood? Find out with ZDNet UK's Broadband Britain Guide.

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

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