Britons should be able to gain cheaper unmetered access to the internet from home under proposals put forward today by the telecoms watchdog Oftel.
The changes would see internet service providers (ISPs) that offered unmetered access being able to pay British Telecom in arrears for the network time used by surfing customers, rather than in advance as at present.
That would bring the charging structure into line with that for "metered" access, by which users rack up bills per minute for their Net use.
In the past only the larger ISPs have been able to afford to compete on price for unmetered access, because they have the financial resources to gamble and "book" network capacity ahead of time.
But by making it payable in arrears, the crux of the Oftel change, smaller ISPs can be competitive and pay according to use.
David Edmonds, director general of Oftel, said calls to the internet now made up more than 40 per cent of all traffic carried across the UK's telecom networks. More than four million homes in the UK now used unmetered internet access, and Mr Edmonds said Oftel intended to ensure that demand would continue to be met.
BT will also be forced under a separate Oftel finding to offer an unmetered access to Worldcom. It had previously resisted the move, claiming that it would put an excessive load on the telephone network.
The proposals are subject to a consultation period, which runs to 25 February. Oftel will make a final decision on implementing the rulings later this year.