Perhaps taking a leaf out of Telecom New Zealand's data network building manual, British Telecom will introduce a flat-rate Internet access service in the northern spring next year.
Called SurfTime, BT's package will cost from £6.99 per month for weekend-only use to £34.99 a month for unlimited usage. ISP fees will be charged on top of the monthly BT access fee.
The similarities to Telecom New Zealand's 0867 scheme are striking: access to SurfTime will be through a new 0844 number, and only via BT lines. Also, ISPs wanting to join the SurfTime scheme must use BT's IP network, very much like Telecom New Zealand's IPNet.
The difference, of course, is that SurfTime is being offered by BT as an alternative commercial product to the prevalent UK model of metered local calling, whereas migration to 0867 is being driven by Telecom New Zealand's two cents a minute penalty on Internet calls made to any other number.
SurfTime comes hard on the heels of severe criticism of BT's reluctance to drop metered local telephone calls and its slow roll-out of high-speed Internet access technologies such as ADSL. Costly, metered local calls and lack of competition in the local loop are said to be holding back the development of British e-commerce efforts.
The UK telco watchdog, OfTel, earlier this year issued a Proposal for Action aimed at breaking BT's monopoly in the local loop. From June 2001, BT will lose its local loop monopoly and other operators will be allowed to put their equipment in BT's exchanges and sell voice and data services directly to subscribers.
SurfTime and BT's recently announced ADSL service are seen as efforts by the telco giant to strengthen is position in the domestic data services market before the June 2001 deadline.