AOL Europe is adamant that it will be able to offer unmetered Internet access despite reports that it has scrapped its plans.
The online service provider started trialling toll-free access for its members as a way of encouraging more users online for longer, and had hoped to have developed such a package by now.
AOL explained to VNU Net that, because telecoms providers still enforce permanent call charges upon its customers, an unmetered package is not yet economically viable.
Pennies from heaven
On Monday 27 September AOL announced a compromise measure with its Off Peak All The Time flat fee service offering users calls to the Internet for a penny a minute regardless of the time of day. (see Newswire 27 September)
Members still have to pay the £9.99 monthly subscription charge, but AOL say it’s the furthest they could go at the moment.
"Our ultimate aim is to stop the clock on Internet calls. We never said we were no longer interested; it’s our nirvana," said an AOL spokeswoman, Maggie Gallant.
She added that it was very frustrating as the 0800 trial was very successful and everyone wants to offer it, but at present there are too many barriers.
"I wouldn't say we’ve hit a brick wall, but there is a wall and it's too high to get over at the moment," said Gallant.
The campaign trail
AOL is putting so much weight behind the campaign for unmetered access because it believes it will help revive its fortunes since the free access market snatched a large percentage of the UK market.
Industry watchers feel AOL is gearing up for a change of emphasis on its brands, in the UK putting more money behind stalwart Compuserve, the new free Netscape Online and the unmetered package instead of its subscription-based online service.
AOL said it is working closely with telecoms regulator Oftel and ISPA as well as supporting pressure group CUT, the campaign for unmetered telecoms.
"There’s a real grass roots level campaign for unmetered access. The last boycott on 6 June spread right across Europe, which shows there’s a real demand for this kind of change," said AOL. (see Newswire 7 June)
While CUT told VNU Net there are no plans for another Net strike, it is working on enlisting corporates such as Intel to pile the pressure on the government.
"All large corporates are saying the same thing. We need consolidated action with consumers and businesses as it effects the whole economy," said Erol Ziya, spokesman for CUT.
Ziya also revealed that CUT is having its first official meeting with BT today to put its case for changing how the telecoms giant charges its customers.
"They can't stuff the digital genie back into the bottle," said Ziya adding that by holding out and not offering flat rate use, telecos are being short sighted as while initially losing a revenue stream, they could actually benefit more in the long term.
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