BT looks at cheap call rates for Net surfers

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The Independent Online

British Telecom is considering introducing a range of lower call rates, including unmetered calls for people using the Internet. As the Prime Minister launched "e-commerce" week, the company, which is facing continuing pressure from rivals and the regulator, Oftel, revealed it is preparing a set of prices that will probably take effect next year.

British Telecom is considering introducing a range of lower call rates, including unmetered calls for people using the Internet. As the Prime Minister launched "e-commerce" week, the company, which is facing continuing pressure from rivals and the regulator, Oftel, revealed it is preparing a set of prices that will probably take effect next year.

"We are discussing with the rest of the industry at all levels, to work through what is a very complex area," said a BT spokesman yesterday. "It may be possible to introduce pricing which is aimed specifically at Internet users."

BT, as the dominant telecoms provider in the UK, has come under repeated attacks for the costs of calls, which are blamed for the comparatively short time Britons spend on the Internet. In the US, where most local calls are free in return for a monthly line rental charge, the average Internet user spends more than 60 minutes online every day. A growing number are also using high-speed technologies known as cable modems and ADSL, which are constantly online. In contrast, British Net surfers spend an average of 17 minutes daily online, and cite per-minute call charges as the main reason for not using the system more. ADSL and cable modems are still rare in the UK.

BT has considered introducing unmetered calls. But it says the issue is complicated by the presence of so many rival telephone companies in Britain. When a person using one network, say BT's, calls a number in another, such as the National Grid's Energis network (which provides the connectivity for Freeserve, the biggest UK Internet service provider) BT has to pass most of that call's revenues to Energis. If BT dropped call charges, it could be accused of abusing its dominant position to choke its rivals.

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