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Today's announcement by AOL UK that it is to offer unmetered Net access has not come too soon for e-Britain.

Consumer confidence in ISPs has faded fast as more and more service providers pull out of the unmetered marketplace, go titsup.com or simply fail to deliver a service of any merit.

AOL UK - which has its knockers - could turn the tide of advancing cynicism among punters and help Britain's ISPs regain some of the credibility that has been lost, if it can deliver quality 24/7 unmetered Net access.

In light of the antics of AltaVista, LineOne, CallNet and others, that's a big "if".

Indeed, cynics would say that £14.99 a month for subscription, Internet telephone costs and unlimited freephone member support is simply too good to be true.

According to Matt Peacock, director of corporate communications for AOL in the UK, this just isn't the case.

He claims that there has been a dramatic shift in the Net industry - a million miles away from the false start played out by the likes of AltaVista.

According to Peacock, the reason AOL UK can offer unmetered Net access is because its telco suppliers now have access to a genuine wholesale FRIACO (Flat Rate Internet Access Call Origination) product from BT.

Unlike FRIACO Hybrid - which is part metered and part unmetered - this product is fully unmetered. Therefore, the costs to telcos and ISPs (and ultimately consumers) are capped.

However, FRIACO is not available nation-wide - not yet anyway. Even so, AOL says it will not discriminate against those people who live in areas not served by a FRIACO product.

"There are no exclusions," said Peacock. "We have a mixture of carriers providing a mix of solutions."

So either AOL UK has some interesting agreements in place with its suppliers - or it is prepared to take a hit where necessary to grow its business.

Sound too good to be true? We'll have to wait and see. ®

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