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Esat could introduce flat-rate Internet access by the end of the summer, ElectricNews.Net has learned.

Esat had previously said that it would launch flat-rate, which allows people to be on-line for as long as they like for a single monthly fee, sometime this year but no timeframe was given. Sales representatives in Esat Fusion, however, are now telling callers that the service will be available to customers within the next couple of months.

BT, which owns Esat Fusion, is already offering its Openworld flat-rate package to UK customers for STG15.99 (EUR25) per month in the UK. The small size of the Irish market might, however, mean higher charges than that.

Peter Evans, Esat's director of products, told ElectricNews.Net that he is hopeful that flat-rate will be available shortly. "We want to be able to offer flat-rate as quickly as possible because consumers and businesses have been calling for it," said Evans.

He said that the government and the telecoms regulator are putting increased pressure on the industry to deliver flat-rate products.

"Esat has been in discussions with Eircom and the ODTR for the last year and a half regarding the flat-rate interconnection charges that might have to be paid to Eircom. We are hoping that the issue will be resolved shortly and I would like to think Esat will be able to offer flat-rate access to its customers within the next three to four months, if not sooner," commented Evans.

A meeting between the ODTR and parties interested in offering flat-rate access is due to take place on 9 July, and it is hoped that pricing structures might be hammered out at this gathering.

Irish Internet users groups and business bodies have been calling for the introduction of flat-rate Internet access for years. They believe that it will increase the numbers of Irish people who use the Internet and help establish Ireland as a leading e-commerce hub. Only around a third of people in Ireland use the Internet regularly, which pales in comparison to other countries such as the US where flat-rate access is readily available.

However, previous attempts by both Esat and Eircom to introduce flat-rate floundered. The nearest any Irish Internet service provider has come has been Esat, which offered flat-rate access during off-peak times via its Surf No-Limits package. But, the service was cancelled last year due to what Esat said was its "over-use" by certain customers.

At the time, the then head of Esat Fusion, Derek Kickham, said that the package was costing Esat too much money, but that the company would be keen to do it again.

Over two years ago it appeared that Eircom would introduce flat-rate, but it never materialised. The company has recently said that it will only introduce the service when it is financially viable for it to do so.

© ENN. ®

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