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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 08:52 GMT
Howww much does it cost abroad?
So - how does the UK compare?
Internet users often moan about the high cost of accessing the net in the UK.

And the hole burning in their pocket seems to be putting people off in a big way. A study by Durlacher Research has found that if access was charged at a flat rate rather than per minute, the average British household time online would triple.

So are UK surfers justified in feeling hard done by? How do their bills compare with other countries?

It's a mess

The picture is complicated, because of the ever-shifting number of deals, discounts, and charging structures - and the wildly varying quality of services.

China: Access costs were halved
But latest figures from the OECD - calculated on 30-hours per month at peak rate - show some surprising results.

South Korea offers the cheapest internet access, followed by Canada, Turkey and the US, it found.

The UK is the sixth most expensive country, beaten only by Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

UK getting cheaper

The 30-hours per month benchmark - roughly spending an hour a day online - costs about 50 in the UK, industry regulator Oftel says.

Even people who use "free" service providers pay per minute for the phone call.

Free ISPs have swept through Europe
But competition means access is becoming cheaper and cheaper, with flat rate deals of varying complexity being announced by internet service providers (ISPs) nearly every day.

On Valentine's Day the Telewest cable company launched SurfUnlimited. This costs 9 per calendar month (PCM) for line rental and 10 PCM for unmetered internet access, plus a minimum 10 PCM of metered voice calls - ie, 29 a month for unlimited internet access.

BT hopes to offer a similar service, BT Surftime, in the spring.

It has said this would offer unmetered internet access at off-peak weekday times for 7 PCM, or 14 for weekend and off-peak usage. Full unmetered access would cost 35 PCM.

But it would only be available to BT customers and those other ISPs who have agreed a new revenue-sharing deal with BT.

Unmetered US

In the US, Oftel puts the 30 hours peaktime benchmark at about 25.

Local calls are unmetered - people simply pay a flat rate for unlimited access. The situation is much the same in Canada.
Cheapest OECD countries
New Zealand
(for 30 hours per month peak time calls)
High and rising local telephone costs in South America, on the other hand, are hindering net take-up, despite an explosion in free ISPs.

Europe changing fast

Across Europe, things are broadly similar to the UK, with internet access usually charged on a metered basis. However, things are changing rapidly.

Germany's Deutsche Telekom recently announced unmetered access through its T-Online ISP.

The two basic deals are about 32 PCM for completely unmetered access, or about 1.50 on top of existing metered charges for unmetered access on Sundays.

However, the deal is only open to Deutsche Telekom customers, and critics say you have to spend a lot of time online to get your money's worth.

The costs in France are slightly lower than those in the UK. Twenty hours online costs about 9 a month.

Australia ahead

Of other countries around the world, South Africa has a thriving internet community but internet access is not cheap.

Free ISPs have not yet really taken off. Costs are about 6-9 a month for access, plus a per-minute charge for the local call.

Australia ranks as once of the cheapest countries for online access.

There are various cheap deals, but a typical offer from Telstra - the country's biggest ISP - allows 30 hours' surfing for about 20, plus a few cents for the local call.

The cost of accessing the net in China used to be prohibitively expensive - an estimated 30 times greater than in the US.
Most expensive OECD countries
(for 30 hours per month peak time calls)
But last March, the government halved the cost of internet access, to about 25p per hour for the first 60 hours of use.

Use of the net had increased by an estimated phenomenal 324% by the end of the year, and Chinese surfers are expected to number about 5.5m by the middle of this year.

Web surfers in Japan are said to account for about 10% of the world's total.

But millions of these use mobile phones to surf. Only about 11% of homes have an internet connection because landline costs are so high.

Currently, people using a fixed line pay about 5p for every three minutes spent online. Most ISPs charge about 22 a month, which means modest users can easily end up paying about 85 a month.

But UK users should be most grateful of all that they don't live in Hungary.

There, high connection fees and expensive local telephone calls means users pay about 20 a month to go online.

That is about 16% of the average monthly wage.

See also:

07 Dec 99 | Business
07 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
30 Nov 99 | Business
07 Dec 99 | Business
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