Cable & Wireless Communications is pulling the plug on free Internet access for around 65,000 UK homes.
Tens of thousands CWC customers in south London and Southampton have free unlimited access to the Internet during off peak times under a package created by Videotron, one of the four cable operators that combined to form CWC in 1997.
But from 1 September, 1999, these customers will have to pay £10 per month if they want to keep their free Internet access.
CWC said the original Videotron package, which gives cable customers free calls to all other cable customers on their local exchange - including ISPs - is now outdated.
"There are 65,000 customers on this package. Some are now using it to make Internet calls. This is making it quite uneconomical for us to offer," said a CWC spokeswoman.
The £10 monthly fee is required if the customer wants to make free off peak calls to local business numbers, including ISPs, but free calls to local residential numbers will still be available without an extra monthly charge.
Around 1,000 customers are using the free calls 'substantially' for Internet access, according to CWC. But it said many more are using the free calls for lower levels of Internet access.
ISPs whose customers will be affected by the decision urged CWC to rethink the decision.
"This seems to fly in the face of the current trend towards low cost Internet access being promoted by, amongst others, the current government," said Ben Knox, managing director of Direct Connection.
"Following the depth of sentiment expressed against this move, Metronet hopes that CWC will seriously reassess the implications for their customers and resolve this matter satisfactorily," said Paresh Morjaria, general manager of Metronet.
CWC said customers have several choices if they are unhappy with the new deal: either switch to another CWC call plan that offers a limited quantity of 'free' call minutes, keep their existing package but pay for their ISP access at local rates, or cancel their account.
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