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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Unmetered internet access - Can it work?
Surfing the web with no time restrictions, just paying a flat fee, sounds like a hassle-free way to browse the internet. But is unmetered access really feasible?
Altavista UK has confirmed that it never launched its much-hyped unmetered service, blaming BT for failing to provide the lines it needed.
Last week Freeserve said that its network is starting to get jammed as more and more people subscribe to its unmetered service.
Companies struggle to make money out of the unmetered services because, although surfers pay next to nothing, ISPs have to pay network provider British Telecom the full telephone bill.
Do you think the service will ever work? Have you had problems getting through? Send us your views and experiences.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I don't care how internet access telephone calls are metered, provided that one can get an identical deal for a normal phone call. If I were the sort of person who makes frequent long phone calls I'd want to know why internet users were getting preferential rates.
Are we on the same planet? I used an unmetered ISP for years. When my 56k modem became too slow by comparison, I switched to a cable modem for a bit more money. Had I wanted to spend a few more bucks, I could have taken a DSL line. Who's holding the key to the shackles?
From the comments so far it appears that NTL offers the only genuinely free internet service. NTLworld is my third service provider and the fastest by quite a distance. Best of all, its completely free.
Helloooo!!! Everything in a capitalistic society runs on a profit motive. Buy a vowel.
Paul Webb, England
New Zealand is small country with a population much smaller than England's. We have one major telecommunications company monopolising the market and most people still use telephone modems. However, I have never had to pay for a local (anywhere in my district or city) call in my life, off peak long distance calls are capped at $5 (less than 2 pounds) and I can talk as long as I want. I can call the UK or USA and talk for as long as I want for $10 or less in the weekend, and I pay around £7 a month for my unlimited internet access (no line charges either). Even telecom offers unmetered access and ASDL will be standard within two years. You guys are being completely ripped off.
In the UK, I believe its only the monopoly being played by traditional management and pricing department, which never would be able to match with worlds leading telecommunication companies.
Only in Britain would this question be asked. Here in the US free access is common, as are free local calls (and fast Internet connections via cable or DSL)
British politicians need to wake up and open up the communications market fully. There is a massive opportunity for individuals and small companies to thrive in the global Internet economy, if they are given the chance to compete on equal terms with countries like the US.
I have free internet access through the Breathe Freely organisation who run the facilities for Classic FM. They invited me to pay a one-off payment of £50 in return for free phone calls. The service is reliable and very convenient. Apparently a few people have abused the service and they have been "cut-off".
Viresh Doshi, UK
If it works for the Americans why can't it work for us in the UK? I would happily pay a flat fee for unmetered access so I don't have to worry about the pennies ticking away. If we continue to drag our feet UK businesses will miss out and may never catch up with the Americans.
I have so-called free internet access with The free Internet.com and it's excellent. I pay a one off fee of £50 for the first year
and £20 per annum thereafter. Nothing more to pay and no cut-offs after 2 hours.
Stop whinging and get surfing.
The government needs to have less rhetoric and more action and BT needs to give free access to the net now! BT and its millions of £ profits have been at the expensive of ordinary people paying over the odds and it is about time BT pays its users back some of this money.
Leslie Rogers, UK
I have been using unmetered Internet access for years now. I pay $50/month but have a download speed of 2.5 Mbps and upload speed of 315 Kbps. If the UK doesn't adopt the unmetered system soon, they will fall helplessly behind.
Our company, Triangle Multimedia, and all its employees have been on unmetered access for the past 6 months. The trouble is that free ISP's tend to provide good service initially until demand outstrips their technical capabilities and they ultimately go into liquidation.
If you want genuine free access you can forget it for at least 18 months.
Paul Walker, UK
Unmetered internet access works very well here in the USA. A call to my local server in Detroit costs $15 for the first 150 calls then 6 cents for a call, for an unlimited time period per call. Once I connect I use the net for as long as I like. When you first use the net you go through a period of surfing everything, then you get bored and only look at relevant pages such as the news, the weather and the TV guide. The UK telecoms industry needs to get into the 21st century and offer similar deals on local calls, once they do that net use in the UK will reach a similar level to that here in the US.
Unmetered access works for me already. I have a cable modem from NTL. 24/7 access and 60-70 Kbytes download speed but only about 15 Kbytes upload. I pay a fixed fee per month but I'm not sure when NTL will make a profit. Before Halley's comet comes around next I hope.
Unlimited internet usage is the norm in the US. When it first appeared, there were countless system problems at first as the demand far outstripped the capacity. Eventually, all that smoothed out.
The internet IS the future. Any nation that limits use of the internet limits the potential for growth.
It must! - Any country that doesn't have unmetered internet access will fall behind the rest of the world very quickly.
Randall B., USA
I suggest that everyone should go to http://www.unmetered.org.uk/ and back the campaign for unmetered internet access in the UK I was probably one of the 1st people given the unmetered access by NTL and it has given me complete freedom. I have no problem when I or my family decide to surf the net, or for how long.
Recently I have changed from BT to NTL this has allowed me to pay a flat rate of only 9.25 and get free dial up and calls. This has completely changed the way I use the internet. I firmly believe that this is the way to go and other ISP's should accept it must catch up and provide this service as we are in the 21st century.
If you don't have that yet, then you need to understand that you NEED it. Everything will be coming over the net, including MOVIES, NEWS and at 30 frames per second.
L A Waygood, UAE
I''m sorry to say, but appears that most internet users want everything for nothing.
If this is the case, who is going to pay for the installation of the modem racks and network servers?
If you have any sense, you'll get on NTL World where it is genuinely free with no ties.
I've been paying a monthly, $20 flat rate with unlimited surfing for about five years. Sounds like you guys are being robbed.
Stephen Crickley, England
Unlimited surftime is here already but the ISPs servers can't cope with the demand. They become too clogged so that the connection is so slow that it isn't worth even trying to surf the net. I use an ISP which you have to pay monthly but at least I always get a guaranteed good connection each time and they aren't joining surftime until they have upgraded their equipment to cope with the higher demand.
All internet access should be unmetered. I have to pay the equivalent of £18 a month for unlimited use BUT I also have to pay about 50p an hour for the telephone bill. I don't see why the ISP people are complaining. The internet is jam packed with advertising so surely doesn't this pay for everything? I feel that a flat fee would be sufficient with no telephone costs. Metered internet access will cost people an arm and a leg.
After five years in New York after eight in London, issues like this still make me smile (and thank my lucky stars for being this side of "the pond"). The whole debate is such a non-issue: that UK citizens should have some form of unlimited access to the internet is beyond debate, and that the still near-monopoly of BT is the major obstacle to this is also evident.
I have had unmetered internet access for the past eight years. I have always been amazed that most of Europe charges per minute even for local calls. Since I don't live there I really don't have any idea why this is so. Although I get unmetered internet access for $20 (US) and free local calls, the fees I pay the phone company for my line may well add up to what I might pay there for metered usage. But, I have been wondering, doesn't supply and demand work there as well as here?
After having lived in the US so long, I realise now I am back in the UK how over-governed, over taxed, and thoroughly abused we are by monopolies. Whether it is being forced to pay a tax for owning a TV (called the licence fee) paying a third more to buy a car and having some of the most heavily taxed petrol in the world. Have the most restriction to government information; or some of the most expensive local telephone calls in the world.
Modems are old technology, the fact that they rely on the public switched network means that they are billed at a per second rate - just history. Although this is changing, ISP margins are so low that flat rate access with modems doesn't stack up commercially speaking. New technologies (ADSL etc) will just bypass this problem - 2 years time the problem will cease to exist
I think we should stop comparing and give BT a chance. Different things work better for different countries.
BT will do anything in its power to stop flat rate access. It retains a Soviet like grip on phones, and will only give up its monopoly when it is wrested from its cold, dead hands.
Poor us! We can afford to have expensive home PCs, but we aren't happy to pay per second to use the Internet.
I wouldn't mind people wanting free access if everyone in society could use it, but as per usual, it'll only benefit those who can afford a PC on the first place! Or are we all going to donate the money we save?
Of course it will work! - look at the success of PlusNet who are currently offering 'SurfTime' - they have loads of subscribers and you always get a connection! - unmetered access is here!
Justin Berkovi, United Kingdom
In the UK the major problem is the fact that BT owns most of the telephone lines. Many ISP companies provide access and connect through the BT network. Until these companies are given access at a flat rate the commercial viability will never be possible. Altavista UK being a large enough company should have known about the pit falls in advance. Asking users to subscribe to a service that was not set in stone makes them look rather foolish.
We don't want FREE access, we want unmetered access. A lot of the people in this debate seems to have missed the point. We want a system where we can be online 24/7 on a high bandwidth connection for a fixed rate per month. Until ADSL becomes widely available, we're not going to get it!
Mike Hill, UK
No one seems to have realised that the reason why America and Australia offer unmetered Internet access is because local calls are free. This could not happen in the UK since the country is simply not large enough to be able to make up the shortfall in long distance call charges.
People who are saying it's not your birthright for unmetered access are very narrow minded and don't know what they are talking about! Here in the US, the Government had the sense to break up the ATandT monopoly and ensure existing incumbents unbundle their services. This has led to competitive pricing. Local "voice" calls are unmetered and in some cases free. All this is down to competition and the FCC having teeth to prosecute companies that don't comply.
Unmetered access is not the key to successful B2C e-commerce. In the US 70% of the people connected to the Internet have never made a purchase! Figures like this go a long way to explaining why Amazon last year (the year of their greatest revenue) managed to lose 750 million dollars (their biggest loss so far). And Amazon are by no means an isolated case. E-commerce will succeed only when there are more buyers than lookers. which is probably never. I suspect that most of the people craving unmetered access are in the looker categaory.
I work as a computer engineer, and have come across lots of different "free" internet services but none of them seem to provide a service that is as fast and reliable as the "pay as you go" ISP's. All I seem to get is constant busy tones!
We have unlimited cable access here in Paris for 220 Francs (approx £22) a month. Working from home has never been so easy. I use a dialup to connect to a client's computer and the cable Internet connection to seek out the problem.
Do you think access equipment grows on trees?
Ian Bailey, England
Britons will remain second-class citizens in the Internet world as long as they have metered calls, while countries with unmetered calls, like Australia, will forge ahead. No doubt about it.
It won't work while Oftel remains the toothless and house-trained organisation it is. BT are mainly left free to plunder their customers and offer them the occasional incomprehensible tariff which ends up increasing their bill.
Louis Berk, UK
Water is not generally metered in the UK, but seems to run at a profit. In some cable areas we already have unlimited off-peak free calls to other cable users. Unlimited net access will be a means of large telecom companies retaining customer loyalty, as voice telephony is now more or less a commodity.
In the US they have free local calls but this is only useful if your ISP is a local number. The way their phone system works the person living literally across the street could count as a long-distance call. At least in the UK a "local" call is based on geography and not on arbitrary exchange configurations.
When will the telecom industry wake up and join the rest of the world. If we want this country to move forward at the same pace as the others we must have unmetered access to the Internet so that the poor as well as the rich can have access to the Internet and all of its benefits.
If BT is "so bad" why are they having to employ extra staff to cope with the demand for reconnections following people trying out these fly-by-night telcos and ISPs? You have to remember that BT has to spend billions on its backbone network and supply services to the entire mainland whilst these small companies are able to just cherry-pick the customers they want.
Paul Fitzgibbon, UK
What users demand and technology can deliver will happen. The financial models are not yet working in this market - making money is the commercial driver that needs addressing.
There is no free lunch, and the sooner people realise that and stump up their share of the investment, the sooner we'll see the quality services they are currently demanding as a birth right.
Unmetered ISP access would be
little problem if it weren't for OFTEL
telling BT and others what to do.
BT could have provided free ISP
access years ago but OFTEL said
that it wouldn't be good for
business as the other operators
wouldn't be able to compete. This
problem still exists.
Fred Mickle, UK
It seems to me that the general consensus is that BT are really not playing fair. However, having heard the regulator of OFTEL on Radio4 this morning I despair. He proudly announced that having BT's unlimited off-peak only access now makes us the best in the world! Hmmm. Also, what has happened to ASDL which was taking subscriptions since June? BT are really not playing fair and must be clamped down on.
I've been on Telewest Surf Unlimited since March. I pay £10 a month and surf for as long as I like. This only works because Telewest use their own lines and they choose what goes on them, not BT. Maybe if more companies break the BT monopoly then unmetered access will be possible, because all that BT are after is the money.
Wake up BT! we already have it in Hull. For £15 per month we can access the net for an unlimited time at the cost of a local call rate (5.5p). As usual Kingston Communications is way ahead of BT (which is why they are taking BT's customers in the local area as fast as they can lay the cables!)
Well in Oz we have no such problem as local calls are un-timed, and most ISP's charge a certain rate per month. If it works in Australia why not the UK?
Nick Tavaniello, Mexico (soon back in sunny Leeds)
We have unlimited access through a cable modem with our cable TV company, Time-Warner cable of Maine, called Roadrunner Service. We pay $37.75 a month and there is no login or dial-in - it's always on, and doesn't tie up the phone line! It's a wonderful service that I have had for two years.
Behaving in the way you have is only reducing customer confidence and putting the nation at a disadvantage. As your name says, BRITISH Telecom. However you do not appear to want to push the British side on the Internet. I appreciate you want to protect your highly profitable leased line business, however this is at the expense of the small business and home users.
Karl Peters, UK
Pay per-minute for Internet access? One good thing about moving from the UK to California is paying flat rate monthly fees for both Internet access AND local phone calls. My last bills for both services totalled under $35.
Of course it will work! It works here in North America whether it's dial up or cable - just pay a flat fee and surf 24/7 if you want. Easy.
If the Government is serious about giving people on low incomes access it should take on BT and start by making local calls free, thus making the whole unmetered debate irrelevant.
All too often we get the fact that Americans enjoy free local calls rammed down our throats as a prelude to the familiar cry, "If they can have it, why can't we?" Put simply, the free local call system was put in place long before the Internet was dreamed of and every telephone company in America today would dearly love to see the back of it! That said we should also examine other aspects of the American telephone system. Yes, local calls are free, but others are not and are a lot more expensive than ours. Also, the US idea of 'Local' is just that, very local, more than a few blocks away is no longer 'Local'.
The Internet is a key to economic prosperity. The UK is keeping itself in leg-irons.
ISP's are going to be lucky to cover costs whilst having to pay extortionate sums to BT and a minority of "customers" abuse the system by maintaining 24/7 connections.
I was one of the lucky ones that already used had a NTL telephone line and requested an NTLWorld disk on the first day they offered unmetered access. I received the CD on the day of release and I must say that the service has been fine. I understand that after a few minutes inactivity or 2 hours constant access you are logged off. I find these restrictions reasonable and no problem.
Kristian, Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
I have been using NTL free for over 3 months now with no problems, and no sign of them discontinuing their service. As far as I can see with BT standing their ground on charges, the only way forward is to connect via cable.
We're currently in the start of something which will eventually become standard. My family purchased a second phone line and BT SurfTime which costs approximately £25 per month. This allows us unmetered internet access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Before we bought the new plan however, we used a free ISP which we paid "by the minute" local rate calls for. It was actually faster than the plan we are paying for at the moment, so I hope that, in time, things will improve. Unmetered access is working, it's just the service isn't as fast as I would like it to be. Things will get better.
If I had only the capital to invest, my top priority would be to develop a broad-band fibre optic network in the UK for domestic and not just academic and business use. Although the initial cost of this network would be gigantic, a company that could sucessfully tie customers to its broad-band counter-network by high installation fees yet unmetered access would be a huge player in next-generation internet technologies. Once a pioneering company breaks the hegemony that BT enjoys via dial-up net access, others will surely follow.
All that has been acknowledged today is that a company can only retail unmetered access if its supplier is in turn providing the service unmetered at wholesale. Companies such as Alta Vista have simply had their fingers burnt by offering something that they couldn't sell at a profit.
Kevin Wood, UK
Of course its feasible. They've had it in the States since the word dot! I lived in the US nearly
2 years ago and I had unmetered access then. My machine was always on and always connected to the internet 24 hours a day. I t was great.
Patience folks, patience. The overworked bureaucrats are hard at work. One has to bear with them. Their mindset only follows red-tape process and technology seems to have left them far behind. Passing on responsibility from one desk to the next is the only transfer they understand.
It WILL work as soon as BT is out of the equation. Come on OFTEL do your stuff.
I use Virgin for unmetered net access. For a flat rate per month I can surf 24/7. For me it's a complete success.
Still accessing the web over telephone lines? How quaint.
Tom Leach, UK
I often surf the internet any time I want without being timed. It works! ofcourse it depends on what reasons you are surfing the internet for. The information I obtain through surfing the
internet is invaluable both to me and the company.
It will never work while the main telecom providers are limiting bandwidth and trying to profit from customers on-line time. We need new technologies implemented quickly (such as DSL), and we need dedicated computer backbones installing that are funded not by customers on-line time, but by the revenue raised by the increase in e-business, which BT will undoubtedly share in due to the diversity of its activities.
Chris Barnett, The Netherlands
It should be possible to make it work, as the US manages it. What is needed is for OFTEL to force BT to set up a charging system similar to the US.
Will it ever work? Of course it will! Look at the Americans, they have had unmetered access for years and it has definitely been a major precursor to the lead they have when it comes to the internet. Dial-up is dead in the water and you all know it. How can other nations expect to be able to keep up if they are to be forced to pay through the nose for access. Here in Iceland we have it marginally better, a few ISPs are offering unmetered DSL, among them our very own BT, which has had a complete monopoly on telecoms for decades.
I am all for unmetered access to the internet. Everybody uses it for different things. I update my web site on line and read emails and only occasionally surf other sites. I also listen to radio stations on line sometimes for over an hour. My son surfs and listens to music.
All this would cost a fortune without the support of NTL who charge me £10 a month for the service
Unmetered access will eventually be a success, simply because the nature of the market demands it. Yet the market is being undermined by the privileged, almost cartel-like, position afforded to BT by successive weak-willed governments. So long as this behemoth of monopolism holds such an artificially strong position in the telecommunications sector, the glory of the internet revolution will be denied to the mass of the population.
Mark Emeny, UK
You guys don't have that yet? Whoa.
When will the UK wake up and realise they are being ripped off left right and centre as far as Internet and computer technology are concerned? Of course unmetred access is possible. We have had it for nearly two years in Amsterdam and it is easy and hassle-free. We pay about 25 pounds a month, which I consider worthwhile for complete 24-access to the Net
After some wait I have now received my NTL internet account. This offers free calls and does seem to work fine. NTL has the advantage over some ISPs, however, of owning much of the infrastructure. Maybe this is the future as the British telecoms industry is further fragmented
Enough already! Everyone wants unmetered access to a free ISP with no restrictions. Something for nothing. But the golden goose has yet to hatch a viable business plan.
Of course we can have unmetered access. The BBC manages to keep a huge operation going with our license fees. The ISPs and phone companies aren't that much bigger and don't have to make any programs.
Mairi Blackings, UK
Until we get free Internet access, the UK's E-Commerce industry will suffer and cost the consumer more. Is this phone charging idea another case of "Rip-off Britain"? When the UK has free Internet access, like a lot of European countries and the US the UK's E-Commerce industry will boom.
My current 24/7 Internet connection with Libertysurf now works well and the auto-cut off after 2 hrs is not a problem but is merely inconvenient. Broadband connections are the only way forward and OFTEL should exert pressure on BT to make the local loop available to other IPs without further delay. BT could avoid their current profitability problems, of course, by deciding to charge reasonably for their own grossly overpriced Internet connection services.
I use NTL world and am delighted with the free service. I can get up and read the news via my computer. When I get home from work I can check my email and find out what is on TV. My fiancé and I even use it for finding crosswords online. Would I do all this if I had to pay - probably, but to a much lesser extent.
Of course we will EVENTUALLY get unmetered access, I just wish all these so called "Customer Caring" companies would get there fingers out and do something! - USA, Germany and more than a handful of European countries have this luxury. Once again Britain is last!
Screaming.net, operated by World Online, offers free phonecalls to a free ISP if you use World Online as your telephone provider. They offer both off-peak and 24 hr free access. I never have problems connecting, and stuff like the Big Brother webcams stream through beautifully. I think this counts as flat-rate unmetered access? It works for me!
This whole problem stems from the fact that we are still using telephone lines for internet access. For the internet to really take off, we need a national network of high-bandwidth lines going directly into people's homes, which would be completely separate from the telephone system. This would make the internet almost instantaneous.
Until BT sell on the local loop to other providers at internal rates, unmetered access by a third party is a pipe dream. This makes the provisioning of DSL technology over BT lines a nightmare. The UK is being left behind drastically in access bandwidth and I'm afraid this will have a result in the take up of technology.
I pay a flat fee which provides some prepaid online time and then pay top up charges if I go over that. The phone bills are off peak local rate regardless of time of day.
I use Libertysurf, £20 a year for off peak free calls. I had big problems getting on line in the early days, but now Comet have stopped selling it, I find it easy to get connected.
This in turn cannot happen until OFTEL is prepared to bare its teeth at the monopoly, something which it seems to have been sadly reluctant to do to date.
Ian Sharp, UK
The long term future and profitability of Internet access will depend on three things, value added content for which users pay, advertising and e-commerce revenues. So unmetered access can and will survive. The question is which ISPs can find the money to finance it to profitability or grow fast the other revenue streams.
Will it work? Of course! In general users want this. Why should I have to pay just to check my e-mail when I may have none? This is the major disadvantage of the pay as you go schemes. Rather like the post office not telling you have a parcel so you have to phone everyday at your own expense just to see if one has arrived or your phone not ringing when a call is received so you would have to sit and listen for a call all day at your own expense! We need not just unmetered access but 24/7 access as well.
22 Aug 00 | Business
Altavista blames BT for 'fiasco'
17 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Unmetered users prove hard to find
18 Jul 00 | Business
Unmetered web access in trouble
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