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AOL UK has indefinitely postponed plans to introduce 0800 access to the Net, effectively admitting defeat in its bid to reclaim the initiative against subscription-free ISPs such as Freeserve. The UK's second biggest Net access provider admitted that despite carrying out extensive trials it is simply not commercially viable to introduce a flat-fee 0800 service at current pricing levels. The company was adamant that it has done all it can to introduce a new model of Net access but said it was foiled by regulatory red tape and intransigence. News that the online service provider (OSP) was to introduce flat-fee 0800 access was made public in May and was seen by many as one way AOL UK could maintain a subscription-based service while wrestling back the lead it lost to subscription-free services such as Freeserve. Despite this latest setback, AOL has pledged to continue lobbying watchdog Oftel for changes to the telecomms pricing structure in Britain. It is also to conduct ADSL trials when the service is rolled out in Britain next year. Many AOL users began to fear that Monday's announcement that AOL UK would introduce a new pricing structure, signalled the end of the planned 0800 access service. From now on Net users who pay £9.99 a month for its unlimited price plan can access the Net for 1p a minute regardless of the time of day. For those people who use the service during the day it's a saving of some 75 per cent on BT's standard peak-time local rate call charges. Unfortunately for many people the new price pan is simply irrelevant. "We can't introduce 0800 [access] right now," said an AOL representative. "The trial prices we had are not commercially viable," she said. Although AOL UK wouldn't confirm exactly what the trial prices were it's believed they were levelled as high as £30 a month for unmetered access to the Net. "If we could have introduced it at this point we would have done so -- we've gone as far as we can," she said. "We can only introduce 0800 access if the regulatory climate changes but our ultimate goal remains the same -- to get unmetered access [in the UK]." No one from Oftel was available for comment at press time. ®

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