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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK


Sci/Tech

BT goes free on Net strike weekend

Net users with Websites are being asked to post this page on Sunday

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

BT is introducing an 0800 number for toll-free Internet access at weekends. The launch comes on the eve of a Europe-wide Net strike in support of unmetered telephone calls.

Only subscribers to the BT Internet Plan Unlimited service will be eligible for the new number. They pay a subscription fee of £11.75 a month or £129.25 a year.

BT's timing may be influenced by the Net strike, co-ordinated from the UK and calling for free local calls, but it is also a response to the toll-free access now being offered by screaming.net and X-stream and being tested by AOL.

Surf free for 48 hours

The 0800 number will work from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday and then on subsequent weekends. To prevent congestion from people staying online all weekend, connections will time out after 20 minutes of inactivity or two hours of usage.

The Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT), which is organising the Net strike, described BT's offer as a start and said it was a remarkable turnaround from its comment that "unmetered access is akin to a free lunch".

"However, users are still tied to a single ISP (Internet Service Provider), as with all the 'free' offers so far, and access during the week is metered at the normal non-geographic call rate (4p per minute during the day and 1.5p per minute in the evening before discounts)," it said.

Fifteen countries set for strike

Internet users in fifteen European countries are being asked to turn off their modems and phone users to pull out the jack on Sunday to protest at high telecoms charges. The campaigners favour the American model of a flat-rate fee for a phone service enabling the free local calls that would encourage extended Internet surfing.

The countries set to take part are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

AOL in Europe is supporting the aims of the strike and is trialling 0800 Internet access for a monthly subscription of around £14.95. The first no-subscription ISP, X-stream, offers 0800 access at selected times.

Another free ISP, screaming.net, gives toll-free access in the evenings and at weekends if subscribers sign up with Localtel for their phone service. Localtel also offers a 10% discount on BT rates for ordinary calls.

  • Telephony services are the latest service being offered by free ISPs to lure new customers. Breathe was the first to promise Unified Call Management in February. Last week, freeserve announced beta testing of Telserve, where users will be able to pick up voice, fax and email messages from any phone or Internet-ready computer for free, wherever they are in the world. And from June 3, X-Stream is offering a similar unified messaging service.




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