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Cost of 0800 access could put us out of business weeps service provider

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Senior executives at AOL Europe have tried to quell a rebellion among its users after the service provider effectively conceded it had postponed indefinitely plans to introduce flat-fee 0800 access because of the "regulatory structure" in the UK. It also warned that if it did introduce 0800 access across the board it could put AOL UK out of business. The stark warning came as senior executives tried to appease a hardcore group of AOL UK users who blasted the online service provider (OSP) for its decision to introduce 24/7 1p-a-minute dial-up access to the service. Many feel betrayed that AOL UK will not be introducing flat-fee 0800 access despite trialling the service since May. The mutiny among users was inflamed still further when it became apparent that those people who are already taking part in the 0800 24/7 trial will still be able to get access to the Net for as little as £14.99 a month -- including the cost of dial-up phone calls. The Register has learnt that that there could be as many as 50,000 people taking part in the 0800 trial although a spokeswoman for AOL UK declined to comment on whether this figure was accurate or not. Among the notice board messages posted to AOL UK editor Dominic Wells, one AOL UK member wrote: "I think it is disgusting that there will be some people on here who are allowed to have total free 0800 access. "If 0800 is not a viable option then how come those on the 0800 trial are allowed to keep it?" Another enraged member wrote: "AOL promised us 0800 access and they didn't deliver. Other companies can do it. AOL could if they wanted but instead they opt to blame the phone companies. "Why, when we phoned up to ask about it, were we given some bullshit telling us that we would get 0800 access before October?" AOL UK maintains it is still committed to 0800 access and that the current regulatory framework in the UK needs to be altered before it can introduce a service at realistic pricing levels. In statement issued to AOL UK customers, AOL European VP and general counsel Clare Gilbert wrote: "We would like to go further and offer access for a monthly fixed price including phone access, whilst ensuring that the price is affordable for our members... however, the current regulatory structure prevents us from offering the bundled price to our entire membership." Addressing claims from some members that AOL UK had created an "elite group" of users who could gain flat-fee unmetered access to the Net Gilbert said: "We can take the financial uncapped risk for a small number of trialists. "However, if we converted all our members to a bundled flat rate for accessing AOL, the potential cost to AOL in running the 0800 service could put us out of business." ®

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