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Germany's telecoms watchdog has given Deutsche Telecom less than three months to offer ISPs a flat-rate charge for network access.

Germans have been able to surf for a flat-fee since June, but the country's ISPs are hindered by having to pay for network access by the minute.

The Regulation for Telecommunication and Post (RegTP) told Deutsche Telecom to offer the service by 1 February; but the telecoms provider is non too pleased by the ruling, and is threatening legal action.

In a whingeing spree similar to Britain's BT, it claims its existing narrowband telephone network will not be able to cope with the extra traffic created by flat-fee access.

Deutsche Telekom chairman Ron Sommer told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the move would also hinder the company's investment in ADSL, which is the "ideal technology for round-the-clock Internet access", in his view.

This week a report by UK telecoms watchdog Oftel indicated it would force BT to offer a similar scheme in the UK by the exact same date next year.

Meanwhile, issues like Western Europe's xDSL market, expected to explode in the next three years, also hinge on these watchdog rulings. IDC reckons the number of shipments in this area are set to grow from one million in 2000 to 12.4 million in 2004.

But it warns it "will be mainly driven by the
unbundling of the local loop and strong price and service competition among all xDSL players". Germany will stay the biggest market, followed by the UK and France.

The number of German households online is tipped to reach 15.8 million by 2003, from the current 9.7 million, according to Jupiter Research figures. ®

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