Unmetered access to triple Internet use

Analysts believe metered access inhibits Internet usage

The UK Internet market is being "dramatically" held back by the lack of unmetered access, according to research conducted by analyst firm Durlacher.

Interviews in 4,000 British homes found that users would increase the frequency of their Internet access by 46 percent if they had unmetered access. Average Internet use per person, the report found, would triple from 130 to 386 hours per year.

Senior analyst Nick Gibson believes unmetered access is vital to encourage Internet use in this country. "It is clear that widespread adoption of unmetered Internet access would provide a massive boost for what is already a rapidly growing UK Internet economy," he said. Gibson hopes the rollout of broadband and new pricing plans -- such as Telewest's £9.99 SurfUnlimited service -- will "start the unmetered access ball rolling".

Subscription-based ISP AOL has trialled unmetered services and campaigned for BT to drop its per minute charges. It is encouraged by Durlacher's findings. "If you leave the clock ticking, the e-commerce revolution will not happen," an AOL spokeswoman said. "Consumers have been penalised for the time they spend online for long enough."

The government has put pressure on BT to offer unmetered access as part of its campaign to wire the nation. BT has responded with Surftime, which offers unlimited access for £34.99 per month. However, critics claim it is too expensive and question the logistics of the service. How BT splits revenue with ISPs and other operators are still to be resolved, according to Alastair Scott, moderator of CUT (Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunication). "It is shrouded in mystery," he said.

Scott believes the cable companies, rather than BT, will grab the majority of the unmetered access market. "People using Cable & Wireless and NTL are going to be phoning up asking for the same service as Telewest customers. It might spur BT on, but at three times the price, Surftime will be a damp squib," he added.

There's no doubt that the introduction of unmetered access would keep people online longer, agrees Gartner Group analyst Adam Daum. However, he questions Durlacher's methodology. "It is a strange thing to claim that Internet use would treble. How are you able to tell how people will react to unmetered access when they don't have it? Durlacher's guess is no better than mine," he said.

Other findings

  • Over a third of UK adults are now online

  • 41 percent of users have bought something online, compared to 30 percent last year

  • The average spend per online shopper in 1999 was £350

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