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FRIACO fiasco damaging market, claims PlusNet

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The MD of Sheffield-based ISP PlusNet has spoken out at the confusion in the unmetered Net access market and warned that unless the issue is rectified, it could inflict long-term damage on the industry and dent consumer confidence.

In a candid interview with the The Register, Lee Strafford warned that Net users in Britain were confused by the different offers - and subsequent withdrawals - of unmetered Net access.

He said that Oftel's ruling on FRIACO (Flat Rate Internet Access Call Origination) - which should have paved the way for a wholesale competitive product to BT SurfTime - had raised people's expectations about cheap unmetered Net access.

But the delay in getting this product from the drawing board to the marketplace was proving damaging to the industry and to Net users in Britain. It was also affecting the uptake of SurfTime.

"SurfTime is a failure because the market thinks it is going to get FRIACO since 1 June - but it won't happen until next year," he said.

Of course Strafford has a vested interest since PlusNet is one of four ISPs currently offering BT's SurfTime unmetered package.

But The Register has learnt that less than 200,000 customers have so far signed up to SurfTime or its 24/7 sister-product, AnyTime. This figure is disappointing, but what's also clear is that as the casualty list of ISPs offering unmetered Net access grows, BT's unmetered product will continue to look increasingly more attractive.

"SurfTime is great value, but people expect something based on all the stuff being spouted about FRIACO," said Strafford.

And he's right, to a point. Until Net users are offered real choice based on sound economic models, the whole ISP business in Britain will be tainted by the current collapse of unmetered services. ®

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