Oftel, the UK telecoms watchdog, says that Altavista UK made false promises over its defunct unmetered internet access service, then tried to blame BT for delays for back down on its deal.
David Edmonds, head of Oftel, said that he had taken at face value Altavista’s announcement in March that it would give web-users access to the internet at a flat rate, although the company had never consulted BT.
Altavista UK revealed on Monday that the service, for which 270,000 users signed up, never went live. The company had promised to roll out the service from June onwards.
Commenting on AltaVista’s abandonment of its proposed Internet access service, BT’s director of regulatory affairs, Ian Morfett, said: “AltaVista is standing reality on its head as it tries to wriggle away from the consequences of its ill-considered marketing hype.
“Back in February the UK Internet world was buzzing with innovative unmetered offers from BT, NTL Telewest and AltaVista. Even the Prime Minister welcomed announcements from all four. BT has delivered working unmetered access for BT Internet and other leading ISPs. The cable companies have delivered offers restricted to their own ISPs. AltaVista has delivered nothing.
“The claim that the launch of their service was dependent on BT inventing new products is not what they told the world last February. When they announced their offer last March, they had held no talks with BT nor, as far as we know, with any other telecoms operator. Back then, it was as much a surprise to BT as it was to the whole industry – many observers asking how AltaVista could make such an offer before having negotiated a deal with a telecoms supplier. Now, with the press exposing the emptiness of their hype, they appear to be resorting to bluster, blaming everybody except themselves.
“Using BT’s Surftime, BT phone customers are able to dial any one of around 30 ISPs, including Freeserve and from this month Demon, with others joining all the time. We have over 200,000 registered Surftime customers already, proving that unmetered Internet access is entirely possible if you have a business model based in the real world.
“At the same time, BT Internet customers have enjoyed unmetered surfing since February, and we have no intention of taking that away. In each case, people are paying a fair price for a good unmetered deal.
“Around the turn of the year, some ISPs were offering too-good-to-be-true services that were never sustainable. In AltaVista’s case it appears they simply issued a press release and signed up customers, but the press tell us they’ve been unable to find a single customer who has ever received an actual service.
“Even if AltaVista couldn’t make the business add up using the same products as the successful, unmetered ISPs, there’s been a BT wholesale unmetered product (Friaco), agreed with the regulator, that has been on the table since the end of May. That no other operator had taken it up says more about the difficulty of establishing credible business models than it does about BT’s innovation and competitiveness. BT is continuing to innovate, and has offered enhancements to Friaco following discussions with the industry. One operator has now taken this up, having signed up this morning.
“Overall, BT and the UK in general have some of the lowest Internet charges in the world, especially in the vital off-peak mass consumer market. But if you’re prepared to pay nothing, in the long term, you get nothing,” Morfett concluded.
Oftel has no regulatory authority over internet service providers.