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Exclusive: BT forced to offer better unmetered solution for ISPs

The unmetered battlefield is strewn with casualties. Will BT's Friaco II rally the survivors into a force to be reckoned with again?
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

ZDNet UK News has learned that BT (quote: BT) has been forced to rewrite its Friaco unmetered offering following intense negotiations with WorldCom, the network carrier that complained about BT following the announcement of SurfTime. A reworked Friaco could clear the path for more ISPs to offer sustainable unmetered Internet services.

Friaco is the only viable solution for ISPs wishing to provide unmetered services before the local loop unbundles next summer and has been snubbed by the industry as unworkable. Oftel confirmed Wednesday morning that not a single ISP had signed up to Friaco. AOL insisted the main reason ISPs hadn't signed up was because it had not been offerred.

Friaco II, however, promises to deal with the "technical issues" faced by ISPs according to sources familiar with the negotiations. The source explained: "The initial Friaco was simply not good enough... there were far too many technical issues for ISPs wanting to deliver product based on it. In effect it stopped users getting online cheaply because no organisation would sign up to it."

According to the source, BT had little choice but to accept WorldCom's demands or once again face the wrath of an increasingly impatient European Commission.

BT denies that Friaco has been obstructive, although it concedes it has never been a popular offering. A spokesman said: "We are a simple purveyor of the world's finest communications and you need to understand that ISPs are out for their own interests. Which is right. But we have to insist that we are able to make a profit. ISPs always want something more, something cheaper."

Friaco II remains top secret -- BT will not discuss its existence and Oftel says it is a commercial dealing with WorldCom and therefore has nothing to do with the regulator.

The source says an announcement on Friaco II will come after BT has gone through a formal process followed by a consultation period. This is expected to take at least a month.

AOL, long time campaigner for unmetered access, hailed the news as a major victory for British consumers wanting to get online. "This is a very significant development," said a spokesman. "It clears the way for us to offer an unmetered Internet package."

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