The prospect of fast reliable and unmetered phone access for British Web surfers stalled with the announcement by Freeserve of a December trial for its ADSL service.
ADSL is widely regarded as the holy grail for Britain's future as a truly wired society: it's fast - about eight times the speed of today's 56K modems, it's always switched on - making for a more seamless Internet experience without long dialup waits, and most significantly, it's unmetered.
Freeserve's ADSL trial will start in December but the company said it will charge a flat fee of £60 per month including VAT with no charges for time spent online. This is twice what BT charged users during the first phase of its own ADSL trials in London during the summer.
But Freeserve's disappointingly high price, which may change after the trials have been completed, is the direct result of the wholesale telephone charges that BT levies on ISPs like Freeserve.
Indeed, BT announced that it anticipates end users will have to pay at least £50 per month for an ADSL service once it gets going in March of next year.
However, AOL UK, which has led extensive lobbying efforts to persuade the UKgovernment to force telecoms suppliers like BT and Cable & Wireless to offer unmetered calls in the UK, has has said that it wants to offer its existing customers on traditional phone lines unmetered access to the Internet.
Internet advocates and ISPs like AOL have long argued that the UK lags behind the US in making use of the Internet because of consumer worries about the cost of phone bills. AOL claims that around 92 per cent of its UK members said they were scared to spend much time online because of call costs.
AOL Europe president Adreas Schmidt estimated that AOL members spend just 17 minutes a day online, less than a quarter the time spent surfing by US customers.
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