BT dodges flak with unmetered move

Misses out on a savaging from MPs

BT admitted yesterday that its announcement concerning the introduction of unmetered dial-up access to the Net was planned to coincide with a meeting of backbench MPs.

The Trade and Industry Select Committee was due to grill Oftel over BT's monopoly but a spokeswoman for BT told the Telegraph that the timing of the announcement was "not unconnected with the trade and industry meeting".

So it's all just a happy coincidence that Oftel also used yesterday to announce new pricing arrangements that could result in cheaper Internet access in Britain. The new arrangements will mean that from January 2000, Internet service providers can choose what the pence per minute call rate for their customers should be, rather than simply charging the current standard local call rate, read an Oftel statement.

Under the proposals, Oftel plans to set a new rate for Internet calls separate from normal voice telephony, however the watchdog was not prepared to say what that new rate might be. The regulator wants to split the cost of a telephone call into two separate parts -- an initial charge for setting up the call, and a separate charge for maintaining the connection for the duration of the call.

Under current arrangements, these two charges are set at a uniform level. The effect is that short duration calls are under-priced, and long duration calls, such as dial-up Net access, are over-priced. It also said it plans to introduce a new 0844 code for net access and a new 0808 code for free and unmetered Internet services.

The result is that ISPs should be able to approach telcos and negotiate lower access costs for their customers, said an Oftel spokeswoman today. She also confirmed that BT's announcement yesterday was separate to Oftel's plans and that the timing was just a coincidence. ®

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