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UTV Internet has launched a flat-rate off-peak Internet access service, making it the only ISP in the Irish market to offer such a product.

The service, UTVip, will allow users throughout the Republic of Ireland to surf the Internet for up to 150 hours a month during off-peak periods at a charge of EUR29.99 per month. However, customers will also have to sign-up to UTV Internet's telephony package, which it said, has national and international calls rates that are 25 percent less expensive than Eircom's standard charges.

According to Martin Lyons, chief technology officer of UTV Internet, the ISP decided to introduce the product because of the "huge demand" for flat-rate among Internet users in the Republic.

"Every day we get e-mails asking when flat-rate is going to be introduced and I have no doubt that the service will prove very popular among consumers," said Lyons. He declined to discuss target figures for sign-ups to the service because the company is currently in a closed period.

UTV Internet's move comes just over a year after Esat (now Esat BT) withdraw a similar flat-rate offering. Esat said at the time that this was because some customers were using the Surf No-Limits service excessively. The company went on to say that offering flat-rate off-peak at that time was not economically viable.

However, UTV Internet said it believed its offering will make money for the company. "We have researched this thoroughly and we think there is enough demand to make this pay its own way. We won't be crying poverty," commented Lyons.

It also now appears that Esat BT is going to re-introduce a flat-rate product. An official announcement is expected from the company within days and ElectricNews.Net understands that packages offering 30 hours, 60 hours and 90 hours off-peak Internet access per month for a flat-fee will be introduced. Esat BT also recently said that it is working with Eircom and the ODTR to bring in 24-7 flat-rate before the end of the year.

Although these are positive steps for Irish Internet users, some may be disappointed that UTV Internet did not introduce true flat-rate, which is a common offering in most European countries, including Northern Ireland.

Lyons remarked that UTV Internet was "itching" to introduce true flat-rate, but could not due to the current regulatory environment. "We would love to bring it in as we have done in the North, but it is not possible because of Eircom's charging model. We hope that UTVip will show that there is great demand for flat-rate, which will put pressure on Eircom to lower its rates."

UTV's move has been welcomed by lobby group Ireland Offline. "We are very happy with this," said its chairman, David Long. "It is an excellent step in the right direction and it will show the likes of Eircom and the ODTR that there is a market for this kind of product. Hopefully, it will lead to 24-7 flat-rate being introduced sooner rather than later."

There will be a EUR30 joining fee for UTVip, but this is waived for users who sign up to the service before Christmas. Its voice service is available to anyone in Ireland with an Eircom line and will be delivered using Carrier PreSelect (CPS).

Just over 40 per cent of UTV Internet customers are in the Republic and the company claims to be the third largest ISP in Ireland. The business reached profitability ahead of schedule in the second half of 2001.

© ENN.

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