UK cable operator Telewest is confident that it can cope with the potentially massive bandwidth requirement of its fixed-fee Internet access service launched today.
Surfunlimited allows Telewest phone line customers unlimited Internet access for £10 a month providing that they spend a minimum of £10 each month on phone calls.
However, the scheme is open to abuse. Users could potentially leave PCs or Internet appliances connected to the Web for 24 hours a day, every day of the year, for the same fixed fee.
Similar offers in the past from smaller ISPs have offered a poor service because of the limited bandwidth available.
"We are confident that we can keep up with demand," said a Telewest spokesman. "The 0800 numbers offered by other companies were a great idea, but those companies did not have the same degree of presence that Telewest has."
The operator has been updating its infrastructure over the last two months in preparation for the service, said the spokesman. Telewest's franchise - the area of the country it is allowed to offer services under its operating licence - covers a potential 4.6 million homes, of which the operator says it has signed up about 1.3 million as customers.
Analyst Durlacher believes that users would triple the time they spend online if more Internet access services were available.
At the beginning of March, Telewest will roll out cable modem services to residential customers in its franchise area. This will allow the operator to offer broadband services, such as high-speed Internet access and video-on-demand, also under a fixed monthly payment.
Telewest will also launch a fixed-fee Internet access service for business customers at the end of March, although details of this are still being finalised.
The operator is involved in trials of asymmetric digital subscriber line high-bandwidth technology with BT, although this still has quality and reliability questions to resolve before it can be rolled out generally, said Telewest.
Surfunlimited requires users to switch to Telewest's ISP, Cable Internet, and comes with 5Mb of Web space, up to 15 email addresses and local rate customer support from 9am to 9pm seven days a week. The service uses a front-end portal developed with Microsoft's MSN Internet content service.
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