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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 16:06 GMT
UK web access breakthrough
Cheap unmetered internet access is now close to becoming a reality for all in the UK, after industry regulator Oftel set out tough new guidelines for the former monopoly British Telecom.


We have asked for proper unmetered access for many months and it appears we have now got it

Internet Services Providers Association
In guidelines published on Monday, Oftel has told British Telecom to end its practice of charging rivals by the second for all connections going through its network.

Many internet service providers discovered that BT's charges made their flat-rate deals unsustainable.

Among the companies which pulled out of flat-rate deals were Altavista UK, WorldOnline, LineOne and many others.

'Cautious welcome'

A spokesman for the Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA) gave the Oftel guidelines a "cautious welcome" and told BBC News Online: "We have asked for proper unmetered access for many months and it appears we have now got it."


The new product will carry internet traffic on an unmetered basis from the consumer's home to the network of a competing operator

Oftel
The new system will be rolled out in stages from 1 February, 2001.

Some industry experts believe that it could drive down the price of unmetered internet access for consumers to as little as 10 a month.

But an ISPA spokesman said this calculation depended on many variables, among them the running costs of the ISP, the price charged by its telecoms partner, and finally the usage by customers.

The first stage as set out by Oftel will allow internet service providers to connect about 400,000 lines, and the modem at the end of each line can handle on average 10 customers.

Heavy usage could cut the number of customers though.

Flat-rate confusion

The new deal forces British Telecom to provide a pricing package for unmetered internet access straight from the consumer's home to the network of a competing operator.


Unmetered mass access can have a potentially devastating impact on the telephone infrastructure of the nation

British Telecom
This improves on a recently published Oftel plan, which had provided for flat rate access only from the home to BT's local exchanges.

Most telecom operators, however, found this solution too expensive as they did not have links to the BT network at a local level - and the connection from the local exchange through BT's network was still to be charged by the second.

So far only one service provider, AOL UK, was prepared to offer unmetered internet access nationwide, after striking deals with a large number of telecom firms that were present at various local exchanges.

Worries over network capacity

In its attempt to fend off unmetered internet access, BT had argued that its network could not cope with more traffic.

But a study by industry experts, commissioned by Oftel, has now found that BT's network can carry the extra traffic directly to the networks of competitors.

To make sure that BT's network can indeed cope, Oftel has proposed a controlled roll-out of the new service.

Initially, BT will have to offer traffic via 13,500 ports with a capacity of 2Mbit/s each.

Access to the ports will be dished out on a first come, first served basis, with rival telecom firms having to pay 17,692.32 per 2Mbit/s port.

BT: 'Not unexpected'

Oftel hopes that it can prevent telcos from pre-booking thousands of ports to shut out rivals by forcing applicants to pay the money up-front.

The regulator's proposal is a formally a consultation document, but Oftel expects that t can make the deal official in time for the 1 February deadline.

A spokeswoman for BT said Oftel's ruling was "not unexpected" and the company would now study the "very detailed technical document".

She said the proposals showed Oftel had recognised that "unmetered mass access can have a potentially devastating impact on the telephone infrastructure of the nation".

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Moylan
"Unmetered does not necessarily mean cheap"
See also:

08 Nov 00 | Business
06 Nov 00 | Business
22 Aug 00 | Business
08 Nov 00 | Business
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