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BT is to introduce flat-fee, unmetered access to the Internet, the giant telco announced today. A spokesman for the company said there were "no strings attached" and that it was a "wonderful offer", but denied it took the decision in the wake of unbearable pressure for reform.

According to BT, 24/7 unmetered access would could users £34.99 a month. Daytime access from Monday to Friday would cost £26.99, and weekend or evening and nighttime access would cost just £6.99 respectively. The new initiative could be up and running by the spring although it is subject to regulatory approval by industry watch, Oftel.

Bill Cockburn, group MD of BT UK, said: "BT Surftime is the most significant development for the Internet in the UK.

"It has been made possible through a major new network investment in addition to the hundreds of millions of pounds we have already invested.

It is the first time we have been able to tailor packages and we believe it is a huge step towards Internet for everyone while at the same time not disadvantaging those that use the telephone in the traditional way.

"Customers can be in full control of how much they spend on-line and use whichever ISP they prefer. Existing users can save money, and new customers should no longer feel inhibited from using the Internet for reasons of cost."

BT Surftime will also be available to customers on Home Highway and ISDN lines, the company said. But BT's decision to offer unmetered dial-up access to the Internet has been given a cautious welcome by the pressure group that has fought for so long for change.

The Campaign for Unmetered Communication (CUT) said today that the move by BT was a "major step forward" although it warned Net users to be on their guard.

"As long as there are no strings or caveats then we welcome BT's announcement," said Erol Ziya, a spokesman for CUT. "However, the price is still too high," said Ziya, who added that CUT would now be lobbying for the cost to be cut.

The movers and shakers at Freeserve, Energis, AOL UK, and LineOne all declined to comment on BT's announcement until they had more time to examine the small print. Like CUT, the Net industry in Britain is being cautious about anything that is uttered by BT. Once bitten, twice shy and all of that. ®

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