Unmetered access to Net must be limited, says Oftel

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The Independent Online

Internet access operators yesterday praised a ruling by Oftel, the telecoms regulator, that will extend their ability to offer unmetered Net access.

Internet access operators yesterday praised a ruling by Oftel, the telecoms regulator, that will extend their ability to offer unmetered Net access.

But the regulator also warned that limits on the number of customers using unmetered services would have to be maintained in order to ensure that British Telecom's network does not collapse under the pressure of rapidly rising Net usage.

David Edmonds, the director general of Oftel, said: "Oftel's proposals will give a major boost to the availability of unmetered Net access for consumers."

A spokesman for AOL, which is one of the Britain's biggest internet service providers (ISPs) with more than one million users, said: "It is very good news. It's the last piece of the jigsaw that's needed to deliver unmetered internet to the UK."

The product proposed by Oftel will see BT required to carry Net traffic on an unmetered basis from residences to the network of a competing operator. Under the current wholesale charging regime, dubbed Friaco, ISPs have faced incremental charges, based on the level of usage, to carry calls from BT's local exchanges to their own network.

Oftel said it will require BT to provide rival operators with a new wholesale flat rate Net access product from 1 February. But the regulator warned ISPs that unmetered access subscriber numbers may have to be limited to prevent BT's network running out of capacity by the middle of next year.

Oftel, which will regularly review the limits on the amount of traffic BT is required to carry, believes restrictions should end by January 2002. "Our experts found that the volume of internet traffic on BT's network is doubling every 10 months and unmetered Net access is likely to increase this growth rate even faster," Mr Edmonds said.

BT cautiously welcomed the proposal which has been in gestation since Oftel introduced the Friaco regime in May. That followed complaints from AOL and WorldCom as well as the collapse of several ISPs.

A BT spokesman said last night: "We need to look at it further... But we are encouraged that Oftel realises that unless there is a managed approach to unmetered access then it could have repercussions for the main telephone network."

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