WorldCom takes on BT, offers alternative Surftime

Simultaneous launch of a wholesale variant of Surftime

MCI WorldCom is to roll out an alternative version of Surftime following a successful anti-competitive complaint against BT it is revealed Tuesday.

In a complaint to Oftel WorldCom accuses BT of failing to offer a wholesale version of its unmetered product Surftime. It is not the first time Surftime has been criticised. The telco was forced to scrap the first version of the service following complaints from ISPs.

WorldCom is claiming victory in its challenge with BT. "Now BT will have to offer a wholesale flat rate product," says director of regulatory affairs for WorldCom Phil Reynolds. He predicts a glut of Surftime lookalikes from rival telcos and claims it will be good news for consumers and ISPs alike. "The retail unmetered Surftime offering was never sustainable over time because behind it was a metered wholesale product. Now competing operators will be able to offer equivalent or better services," he says.

Oftel agrees that BT has acted "anti-competitively" over Surftime. "The service did not allow WorldCom to compete on an equal basis," says an Oftel spokeswoman. The watchdog is currently consulting with industry to hammer out a final solution and is expected to publish its findings by the middle of May. "Their licence requires them [BT] to offer a wholesale product and the nature of that product is currently being discussed," the spokeswoman says. Oftel is hopeful the dispute will not delay the rollout of Surftime.

BT is standing by its current offering. "The business at this time has decided to make only one offering. We won't be going beyond that," a BT spokeswoman says. She denies the telco has been anti-competitive. "I don't think Oftel is saying that. It is impossible to say whether a product is anti-competitive when it has not yet been launched."

Reynolds argues that BT will have no choice. "It will have to offer an additional product. A new pricing model will be required to allow other operators to compete."

The telco remains unconcerned by the new threat of competition in the unmetered access market. "We always welcome fair competition," the spokeswoman says.

Ovum analyst John Matthews believes any competition to BT's Surftime will be "good news for consumers". He is unsurprised by WorldCom's complaint. "It doesn't surprise me. BT does have a responsibility to make products available to others," he says. "The more people that are able to offer it, the better for competition."

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