Internet service provider AOL UK is to offer unmetered web access to everybody - without restrictions or delays.
When AOL UK first announced its unmetered deal, it limited the offer to existing members. But now the company says it has enough network capacity to offer the flat rate deal to everybody who wants to sign up with AOL in the UK - and the first month will be free.
Unmetered web access has been offered by a large number of UK Internet service providers (ISPs), but most limited themselves to a ‘controlled roll-out’, with small numbers of users being given access to the service.
Several ISPs actually bumped those customers from their networks, who assumed that unmetered access actually meant unmetered access. Among those cutting out ‘heavy users’ were Breathe, Libertysurf, WorldOnline and Freeserve.
One ISP, Altavista UK, never launched its unmetered service, despite pretending that it did exist.
Unlike the United States, many European users of the Internet have to pay telephone charges for every second they are online - limiting overall Internet usage on the continent. In the UK, this pricing model made it costly for ISPs to provide unmetered access, especially as the country’s former telecom monopoly, British Telecom, was slow in offering flat-rate access deals to rival operators.
Telecoms watchdog Oftel has now forced the company to introduce such so-called ‘Friaco’ tariffs for flat-rate wholesale Internet access.
AOL UK was one of the first ISPs to take up the offer. Many other service providers, however, are complaining that BT’s Friaco offer is not good enough, and does not give them access to all the UK’s Internet users.
AOL UK says it can circumvent the problem by cooperating with a number of different telecom providers. It will offer three different deals to its customers.
• Unmetered access - £14.99 ($21.45) will buy users unmetered web access around the clock, using up to seven account names. The first month is free.
• Metered tariff - £9.99 ($14.29) give users access at a special low phone rate of one pence per minute.
• Light-user tariff - £4.99 ($7.14) buys three free hours every month; further access costs £2.35 ($3.36) an hour.
The ISP says that customers now use its service on average one hour per day, since the flat rate deal was introduced. The lure of unmetered access also pushed up AOL UK’s subscriber numbers to one million.
In order to push the new unmetered deal to consumers, AOL UK has linked up with supermarket giant Asda. In return for offering free CDs with AOL software in its retail outlets, the Internet service will feature Asda as its preferred food and drink retailer in its shopping and lifestyle channels.