BT woos the surfers with new deal as Oftel offers choice in call charges

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The Independent Online
KEEN INTERNET surfers are being wooed by British Telecom, which has announced new pricing schemes offering unlimited access for flat rates at various times.

And the telecoms watchdog Oftel announced the creation of two new groups of numbers, so Internet service providers can set up their own charging schemes: 0808 will be offered to providers of unmetered Internet services, such as the one announced yesterday by BT, and 0844 will be used for Internet access charged per minute at lower than normal local call rates.

Oftel's director general David Edmonds said: "This new arrangement will break the link between Internet prices and phone charges, and open the door to cheaper prices. Additional revenue from electronic commerce and advertising should mean Internet service providers could reduce the pence- per-minute charge for their customers to less than the rate of a local call."

The announcements could create upheaval among the scores of "free" Internet service providers, which get almost all their revenues from people on local-rate phone numbers.

The five options in BT's new "SurfTime" scheme range from pounds 7 per month for unlimited weekend access to pounds 35 per month for unlimited access at any time. Other options include unmetered weekday evening calls for pounds 7 monthly, unmetered day calls for pounds 27 monthly, and a two-rate system depending on whether calls are made during the weekday or at other times.

But the scheme will cause problems for anyone with an Internet account. BT is creating a new group of phone numbers for the service. Internet service providers would have to arrange with BT to offer their connections via the new numbers.

nOftel has launched a Web site, to help consumers pick the best deal on their phone bills, with an interactive system comparing five of the UK's leading phone operators.