BT fights unmetered ISP critics with ‘quality’ claim

BT has accompanied the belated launch of its first truly unmetered Internet access service with some fighting talk.

Duncan Ingram, senior vice-president of BT Openworld, with responsibility for narrowband, says the new 24/7 BT Internet service – dubbed BT Anytime and scheduled for launch in January – will have a quality edge over its competitors.

“We think the value of BT’s brand is very important. We are being cautious, we like to get it right. A lot of people have gone into the unmetered market and have had to come out. But our market share has gone from eight per cent to 18 per cent over the year, and we intend to drive that forward.”

His bullish comments come in the face of huge industry opposition to BT’s Internet strategy throughout 2000. Companies such as AltaVista and Breathe.com have come badly unstuck because of BT’s decision to charge them on a per minute basis, even though they were charging their customers an unmetered rate. Pressure from the EU has forced BT to change its policy from the first quarter of 2001.

But that strategy, combined with BT’s reluctance to promote broadband access this year, has bought the company some valuable time. It now claims to be the biggest unmetered access provider, based on the 500,000 people using BT Internet’s evenings and weekends service.

Freeserve offers a similar service, while AOL has recently begun a 24/7 (full-time) unmetered access service.

Ingram denies BT has had anything to do with the well-documented problems affecting unmetered access providers in recent months. These include a marked deterioration in connection reliability.

“We operate in the same circumstances as other ISPs,” he maintains. “Call failure rates have gone up enormously since the summer, in fact they’ve doubled, but BT Internet’s own failure rates have gone down.”

Ingram notes that BT Internet is the only major ISP to have received a five-star rating from evaluation company NetBasics.

The new 24/7 service will initially be open only to existing customers of BT Internet. Ingram says: “We think we can launch our Anytime product with confidence because it’s a substantial improvement on the original.”

Priced at &£14.99 a month, it will contain “reasonable use” terms which prevent customers from staying logged-on for more than about two hours at a time.

The launch in January will be supported by a “quite aggressive” marketing campaign, although Ingram won’t reveal details. He believes 2001 will see the Net enter a “true mass-market era.”

Meanwhile, BT Openworld’s much delayed broadband service is only now starting to contact people who pre-registered for it as early as last March. There is no indication when those further down the queue can expect to hear anything.

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