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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Watchdog 'taken in' by Altavista
altavista website
Altavista: Wrong to blame BT for its problems
The UK telecoms watchdog has accused Altavista UK of making false promises over its failed unmetered internet access service and then trying to shift the blame on British Telecom.

David Edmonds, head of telecommunications watchdog Oftel, said on Wednesday he had taken "at face value" Altavista's announcement in March that it would give web-users access to the internet at a flat rate.

Altavista UK revealed on Monday that the service, for which 270,000 users signed up, never went live. The company had promised to roll out the service from June onwards.

Mr Edmonds, whose roles include consumer protection, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I assumed that, as a reputable company, they [Altavista] had a proper business plan... Private sector companies who come into this market have got a responsibility."

Oftel might in future be less willing to accept the claims of the companies it regulates, he said.

However, he said Oftel had no regulatory authority over internet service providers.

"Incredibly regrettable"

Mr Edmonds condemned as "incredibly regrettable" Altavista's false pledge. "I regret so much that false promises were made. I do not think anybody lost any money, apart from the company, so there is a consolation there."

He also questioned Altavista's claim that delays by British Telecom had been behind the decision to renege on its promises.

"What has gone on is that they [Altavista] have launched something onto the marketplace without having the ability ... of delivering it," Mr Edmonds said. "It is not because BT changed its mind, or BT put obstacles in its way."

But despite Altavista's inability to introduce unmetered surfing, Mr Edmonds still believes that the price of accessing the internet will drop.

He said new competition would emerge to challenge the hold of British Telecom and cable companies on the market.

Landmark deal

He welcomed as a "breakthrough" a deal signed on Tuesday that will allow telecoms company Worldcom to provide unmetered access through BT lines.

"We are on line to having in the UK as competitive a marketplace in unmetered access as anywhere in the world by the end of the year," Mr Edmonds told the Today programme. "The way to get prices down is competition. So getting other companies using the BT network will drive prices down."

It was "realistic" to expect that other service providers would be able to match Altavista's proposal to offer unlimited internet access for a year for 60.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Director General of Oftel, David Edmonds
"I assumed that as a reputable company they had a proper business plan"

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