Will BT voice calls go unmetered?

Telco denies reports of 'Surftime'-like package for normal telephone users

British Telecom (quote: BT) has denied reports in Monday's Express newspaper that it is to introduce free local phone calls within a year.

The reports follow a recent spat with Gordon Brown in which the Chancellor challenged BT to halve Internet costs. The government claims high access costs in the UK are stifling e-trade, and pressure is mounting on BT -- which controls 85 percent of the domestic market -- to turn off the pay-per-minute meter.

The Express claims that all local calls -- voice as well as data -- will be made free (with a small monthly flat fee) within the coming 12 months. BT denies the report: "There is nothing in it. There are no plans to offer free voice calls," a spokesman said. "What they are talking about sounds remarkably like Surftime, which has been on the table since December."

Doubts over the pricing of Surftime -- BT's unmetered Internet package -- have been compounded by a lukewarm reaction from the ISPs that will resell the service. BT has currently set the price for unlimited Internet use at £34.99 per month. Cable company (quote: TWT) is offering the same package for £10 a month, and commentators believe BT will be forced to reduce its prices.

Two major Internet surveys -- one from research firm Durlacher and one from NOP -- suggest that unmetered access would ignite Internet use in the UK. According to the Durlacher survey, Net use would triple if pay-per-minute barriers were removed.

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