Cheap Net rates to benefit public institutions

Prime Minister Tony Blair and telecommunications watchdog Oftel have set out proposals for public institutions to benefit from cheap Internet rates.

In a separate consultation document issued at the same time Oftel says that mobile phone operators Vodafone and BTCellnet have market influence, meaning they are able “to raise prices above the competitive level for a non-transitory period without losing sales to such a degree as to make this unprofitable”.

An Oftel spokesman says it wants to increase competition without resorting to more regulation and will force the companies to publish charges, terms and conditions for services as well as other requirements.

But a Vodafone spokeswoman says the proposals do not alter the way the company is regulated. The consultation period ends on December 7.

Tony Blair has joined Oftel in proposing that telecom companies must offer public libraries, further education colleges and citizens’ advice bureaux up to 50 per cent discount on Internet charges.

BT will be ready to offer the services in April 2000 and plans to charge unlimited daytime access of &£600 a year or &£150 for evening and weekend access.

NTL, Energis, Cable & Wireless Communications, Kingston and Telewest have all agreed in principle to offer similar rates.

Schools already take advantage of reduced Internet tariffs. The proposals extend those rates to other educational institutions and form part of the Government’s National Grid for learning plan.

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