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Friday, 28 July, 2000, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Web access set for radical change
Net connection might soon get better for the consumer

By BBC News Online's Iain Rodger

UK internet service provider Breathe says there will be radical changes in web access over the next two years, with unmetered subscription services set to dominate.

Customers will be charged variable tariffs for unmetered access at different speeds

Sean Gardner, Breathe
But instead of having to choose between expensive fast internet connections and cheaper slow ones, customers will be able to pay extra for fast connection as and when they need it.

Breathe's chief operating officer, Sean Gardner, gave this vision of the future shortly after making the decision to ban 500 users from the company's free net access scheme, Breathe Freely.

He said they had been abusing the spirit of the deal by remaining permanently connected, and that this had been clogging up the system for the other 49,500 users.

Mr Gardner said Breathe would be introducing a new scheme for "heavy internet users" in August, based on a monthly fee, and that all customers, including the banned 500, would be eligible.

Vari-speed future

Breathe's problems with customers taking their offer of a "free and always on" internet connection literally echoes fellow ISP Line One's decision last week to withdraw its unmetered web access.

Variable rate tariffs could work well initially but will lose out over time

Randall Ringer, Futurebrand
Like Breathe, Line One was caught out by a relatively small number of users who remained connected to the internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Line One said that 10% of users were accounting for more than 40% of all internet traffic, and that the scheme simply was not commercially viable.

Sean Gardner says the only connection method that makes economic sense is for customers to pay a set subscription for unmetered connection.

But he says a key development will be that customers who need extra bandwidth - perhaps to make downloading a large e-mail attachment less time-consuming or to play interactive games - will be able to pay more for this service only when required.

Serving customer needs

At the moment, ISP schemes are based on expensive fast connection, such as ADSL, or slower standard deals.

Breathe and Line One's inability to maintain the "free" access schemes they marketed with such fanfare only four months ago demonstrates that internet connection is unlikely to achieve the "free and always on" universal standard eagerly awaited by some.

We need to see how we can change bandwidth according to customer need

Sean Gardner, Breathe
However, Randall Ringer, technology and communications director at Futurebrand, says unmetered internet access that is cheap enough for all is not far away.

He says variable rate tariffs are an interesting idea in the short-term but that such deals would lose out to cheap and fast "always on" services over time.

He says prices will fall rapidly - and already are in the US - and that downloading will be superseded by interactivity as the key web benchmark.

This means users will not necessarily know what level of speed they will need beforehand, and will therefore want the fastest access on tap all the time.

Breathe chokes

Breathe said that many of the 500 they had barred from the Breathe Freely scheme for abusing the system were business users.

These, it said, were not entitled to membership of what had been clearly marketed as a consumer-only service.

It said the barred users were being offered their 50 one-off fee back, either in cash or in free connection time via the its standard service.

Breathe says it has more than 200,000 users of its standard, local-call-rate, pay-by-the-minute scheme.

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See also:

18 Jul 00 | Business
Unmetered web access in trouble
28 Mar 00 | Business
Understanding broadband
12 Mar 00 | Business
Breathe freely with new deal
07 Mar 00 | Business
Battle for the internet
14 Mar 00 | Business
Freeserve unmetered move
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