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The Internet

ISP War in the UK 91

Darren.Moffat writes "Seems like round 2 of the ISP war is about to start in the UK, The full story is online. " Quick Summary: For our readers who've never had to deal with metered calling, there's a running charge for /all/ calls, not just long distance (stupid, I know). But it appears that the two biggest British ISPs are now working with the phone companies to lower those rates. This could be a big breakthrough in the amount of time that Brits spend online.
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ISP War in the UK

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  • This could be a big breakthrough in the amount of time that Brits spend online.

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  • If you use BT and register your ISP (local call) phone number as a so-called best friend number you'll be entitled to 20% discount to all calls made on this number.

    Yes, but tell me you didn't feel slightly sad ringing BT up and asking them to register your ISP as your best friend. ;)
  • Some UK teleco's (mainly cable companies) originally offered free calls to other local cable users as a way of attracting customers from BT. This lead to a number of ISP's setting up on cable company lines to allow their subscribers a flat fee access to the internet. However the general consolidation of cable companies in the UK has lead to just 2 or 3 being left and they are now trying to phase out the free calls to business customers (and conincidently push their own ISP's) which will be a bad thing for internet access in the UK.

    Kithran

  • In which case it would be to BT's advantage to have offered 0845 numbers to ISPs in the same way as other telecos. Then they would be able to keep all of the charges paid by the caller instead of having to pay interconnect charges to the terminating teleco.

    So long as these ISP's used BT lines, also BT ran (and probably still runs) their 0845 numbers on an "overlay" network, specifically set up for short duration calls. They originally did this to support their old equiptment. Every other UK PTO started with SPC (Stored Program Computer) digital exchanges (except KC which deployed them before BT anyway).

    Also it's doubtful that Oftel would have allowed BT to give money to it's customers for 0845 calls.
    (This is is the way the likes of Freeserve are funded.) Oftel tends to keep a close eye on BT (and to some extent KC) with regulation of any other UK PTO being a matter for the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) or Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
  • Do you have to mock someone because of their personal wealth?

    Nope, I don't have to. Doesn't stop me enjoying it occasionally. Get a grip why don't you?

    However, I shall amplify my point for the slow of thinking.

    If call charges were dropped then there would be more people online more of the time, which would mean that ISPs would need to buy lots more modems and phone lines. On top of that, more people online for more time would necessarily use more bandwidth, and bandwidth costs to ISPs are outrageous (Charlie is right when he reckons that a 64Kbps line in the UK costs about the same as a T1 in the US) mainly because of the astronomical cost of laying transatlantic cables. All these costs would have to be borne by the ISPs.

    Back when I was still involved in the ISP we set up we realised that, if unmetered calls did come in, we would almost certainly be obliged to either jack up our subscription charges, introduce some form of metering of our own, or impose strict call time limits. Or go under.
  • Don't US users pay a lot more for 'long distance' calls than we do anyway?

    I can't really comment on intra-national long-distance rates, but for international long-distance, US companies are generally much cheaper that other telcos. Note the popularity of so-called "callback" long distance services for calls to the states. What those companies basically do is provide you with a dial tone from a US telco, usually _significantly_ cheaper than directly dialing to the US yourself...
    Funny I should be reading this at the same time as I open my bill from Bell Atlantic. So for comparison purposes, the local charges on my bill (as listed):

    1) Flat Rate Service $8.47
    2) Bell Atlantic Calling Card $0.00
    3) Flat Rate Usage $13.56
    4) Non Published Service $1.95

    And the following mandates:

    FCC Line Charge $3.50
    Local Number Portability $0.21
    911 Surcharge $0.35

    Etc., etc. Plus, of course local/state sales tax and a federal tax.

    One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that local US telcos don't require flat rate service--if you prefer, you can be billed per-minute for local calls, which makes sense for those who make very few calls per month. Anyway, the point is that you have a choice. Guess which option most people choose? ;)
  • You know that you can get what basically amounts to a BT line from LocalTel for less money (they lease the line from BT and undercut their charges by 10%)? Plus, then you can go to screaming.net and get free evening and weekend Internet access. I imagine C&W would be forced by Oftel to provide the same sort of arrangement.

    But I cannot agree with you more about the TransCo model. It makes so much sense. I wonder whether it would work if everything under the road was owned by a single company, and roadworks could be better-coordinated (like the Heinekin advert)?

    Hamish
  • It's actually worse than Piers says...

    Currently it takes around one (count it, 1) whole month for a piece of transatlantic fibre to go into profit. Someone is making a fsck of a lot of money out of us.

    However, back to the various issues involved in UK unmetered calls. Currently UK ISPs build to a roughly 30:1 modem user ratio. At current UK prices for bandwidth and access routers, it's only just economical for an ISP to operate at those sorts of ratios. In fact most make a loss, or are owned by telcos...

    (I won't go into the erlang number that UK switches are built to, but lets just say the telecoms infrastructure in the UK is getting very close to the limit of the number of concurrent calls it can take...)

    And the BT line pricing issue is one that *may* be going away. Prices in London are now below £3K pa for 64K, though 10:1 contended in the BT cloud. And OFTEL are due to report back by the end of the year on the current state of Internet access services in the UK.

    It's just a pity that my contacts tell me consumer ADSL large scale trials aren't now due until the end of January/start of February.

    S.

    (Good grief, you, me and Charlie in the same thread. It's a gathering of the UK ISP old ones)
  • In fact most [ISPs] make a loss, or are owned by telcos...

    There are a very few ISPs that are making operating profits in the UK, but I think that the majority of those do very little in the way of dialup, choosing to concentrate more on leased lines, web serving and co-location. After all, since there's so little money to be made from serving hoi polloi it is far better to concentrate on providing a high quality service to corporations at a profitable price.
  • by Hobbex ( 41473 ) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @11:25PM (#1651305)

    All paste something I wrote about this situation a while ago, based mostly around my experiences here in Sweden. If I'm factually wrong about something here, I would like to be corrected.

    ---------

    OK, onto the a couple of days delayed summary of the entire telecom situation. I'm probably not the most knowledgeable person about this, you will find. In fact, it has been very difficult for me to try to get most of this stuff straight myself (and some of it might still be, em, bent). However, it seems a lot of people absolutely no clue about this, so maybe I can bring some light to it for them. Observe that this deals mostly with Sweden (for obvious reasons my interest in other Telecom markets is limited). So what is up with the insane per minute costs in Europe? Well, basically those are there because the companies find them profitable, and don't feel like getting into a price war that will push them down. Now, that might seem obvious, but I know a lot of people think that the main Telecom company (that supplies the phone lines, in Sweden's case Telia) is the issue. They are not innocent, but then nor are any of the other players. Fact is, that most (like 90% or something) of the money you pay via your phone bill gets flushed right through to the ISP through agreements made when competition was first introduced to the Telecom market. As I understand it, the Telecom companies came up with the idea of having a fee for someone who carries traffic from their network, onto somebody else's, because back then the other networks in question were mobile phone providers, and the Telecom monopoly wanted part of the money made from calls on those phones. The ISPs love this: They get the money, which is ridiculously more than they have in costs, and the Phone company has to bill you, getting the badwill [teliasuger.org]. They could easily set up their modems on their own networks, diverted at your local switchboard, and charge whatever price they wanted, but why would they do that? Why is this not the case in America? Well, if you look in the history books back to the age when Compuserve and America Online ruled America, it was. The thing that makes America (and some other places, like Australia I believe) different from here is that they have a very regulated Telecom market (in America there is a whole government organ, the FCC, dealing with it), and one of the regulations is that local calls are free. So while the big ISPs were charging their per minute rates, a lot of small ISPs appeared that didn't. These consisted of people who bought a 2 megabit line at 2k $ a month, and then signed up 200 people at 20$ a month, and had themselves a business. These small ISPs put the pressure on the big ones, who had to offer flatrate services to survive. In Europe, where local calls are free, only the ISPs who own (or rent) their own telecom networks can offer flatrate, and they don't want to, seeing as they are cashing out big time on the situation as it is. So is the situation hopeless? Yes and no. All markets where companies are making to much money, sooner or later competition sets in and adjusts things. That is why we love capitalism. BUT, the thing is, the companies are already competing, just not by lowering the prices. You ever wonder how the Swedish (and I believe other European) ISPs can afford to sell modems for free to new subscribers? Well, look on your phone bill. Yupp, those hundred of Euros you pay every month are buying Sportsters for Mr. and Mrs. Newbie-"I vant to be on de Inter-net"-lamer. Go ahead, weep. The reason for this is that the ISPs are not interested in stealing customers who already use the Internet from one another, instead they are interested in getting as many of the NEW users as possible. And new users have it pretty damn good today, being showered with gifts from the ISPs (the rebate on a new computer can be in the vicinity of 200 Euros is Sweden if you sign up with and ISP when buying it). Sooner or later, however, so many people will have signed up that the ISPs will have to start looking at one another, and then I think we will have a pricewar. In Sweden, I do see this happening, at least to some extent, in the not so far future. Most people know about the 1 month offer that Swedish ISP Tele2 had for half the minute charges this spring, but this is not what I am talking about, since they were using it to convince people to sign up for their long distance calling service, and never advertised it to people who were not already customers. However, a few weeks ago I received a letter from Tele2 asking that I start using the numbers on their long distance carrier permanently, and that the old "normal" numbers might be shutting down. That is a better sign. What about the new technologies like ADSL? A very tricky question that no one really knows the answer to, at least no one who has felt like sharing it with me. I received and offer from Telia right when I came back from Indonesia that to sign up for their ADSL service. The 2 megabit service came at the ridiculous price of .05 Euros (is there a term for hundredth of a Euro???) per Megabyte. You do the math, that price pretty much prohibits any broadband applications. Its great if your gonna use it as for the same things you would a modem, but that is so got damn pointless. I know people who got it, and they are now spending their time playing Quake with "rate 2500" on their 2 megabit lines. Hurrah. The reason for this idiotic price is of course that they are afraid that ADSL will become a low cost alternative to their almost as idiotic modem and isdn price. The fact that it destroys all the value of getting a broadband line in the first place (anyone who thinks surfing the web or sending email on an ISDN line is too slow needs go visit Treebeard or something) was a little to difficult for them. In America, of course, they have the opposite problem. ISPs are offering ADSL at flatrate prices because otherwise no one would change from modem and ISDN. The problem with this, of course, is that any nerd with a TI can figure out that there is no way the Internet can handle every Joe Blow with unlimited access to a 2megabit line. A realistic price for ADSL Internet access IMO: 1 Gigabyte free per month, .01 - .02 Euros for each additional Megabyte.

    -
    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • You're right, there is some sad irony in this...

    ...by the pricking of my thumbs,

  • I agree here. With friends and family etc, off peak calls to Freeserve are not that expensive. Personally I much prefer to pay per minute on-line than a flat monthly fee. If I could connect 24 hours a day for the same cost, you can bet that I would do just that, as would most other users. I'd bet that getting a connection would get pretty tricky.

    Don't US users pay a lot more for 'long distance' calls than we do anyway? What makes their phone system so great? They can't even get mobile phones working properly together over there ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ireland generally has the same problems with telecomms economies of scale as the UK. However, recently there have been a good few moves towards deregulation, and the resulting competition is driving prices sharply downwards and increasing the number of companies actively offering services. The latest offering is for unmetered internet access offpeak (18:00 to 08:00 weekdays and all weekend), for a flat fee of 17 IEP per month. Given that my current monthly phone bill is around 60 IEP per month, and even then only because I limit the amount of time I spend online, such a service is valuable. I spend most of my peak time in work anyway, so peak rate internet access simply is not an issue. Vin
  • Maybe I'm being dim here, but why are metered local calls "stupid"? If you're calling from one line to another on the same exchange, then there's an argument that you're not using any of the telco's resources and so should be charged a flat rate.

    And thats the point - calls to my ISP _are_ on the same exchange and at the moment they are flat rate. This has been the case for about 4 years. Despite this the cable company (Cable & Wireless) are now trying to remove the flat rate calls but only to business numbers. If it costs them (effectively) nothing to offer unmetered calls to residential customers why can't they continue to allow it for people wishing to call business customers?

    I agree calls to the 0845 pop's should be charged but I see no reason why people should continue to pay for calls to their local exchange - especially when the call starts and terminates within the same teleco's lcoal equipment.

    Kithran
  • It appears that these 08004u people supply "software" of their own that displays an advert at all times, etc.
    What the website doesn't say is whether there's a linux version, or indeed whether it's really a free ISP as distinct from another AOL...
  • This could be a big breakthrough in the amount of time that Brits spend online.

    Nope. The real breakthrough will be when ADSL becomes widely and cheaply available. Mine's hopefully coming before Christmas, but my ISP has to wait for BT to sort out their ADSL pricing structure first...

    Lowering local call costs will make some difference, and it has to be a good thing, but I wouldn't call it a breakthrough.

  • Having grown up in Philly, and lived in and around Austin, TX for over seven years, before I moved up here to Chicago, I can say that it's not a lot better here...in Ameritech territory.

    Unlike *every* other Baby Bell I've ever dealt with...*and* Mother Bell before that, in "Big A" territory, you pay your monthly fee for a line charge, and there's a charge for Every Single Call.

    Every other Baby Bell offers "basic" and "unlimited" service, with "basic" being dialtone, and 72 calls/month, and "unlimited" being not quite twice the price (it used to be $28 or $30/mo) for any number of calls, within the "local calling area", which in every *other* area, meant a calling radius of something on the order of 25 miles.

    In Ameritech territory, not only is every call charged individually, but anything over, what, 6.5 miles, or 8.5 miles, I don't remember, is *metered*, just as the article mentions in the UK.

    If you ain't got a POP within that radius, it's no different than the UK. C'mon, tell me Ameritech's trying to "limit bandwidth".

    mark
  • Except that the costs of calls do not reflect the actual costs to the PTO of providing the
    service. Indeed it's been claimed that the most expensive part of a call is recording it and the toner which
    goes on the paper...


    True as long as calls are generally short. A line that's connected 24/7 would cost the telco a significant amount (since in effect it would need to maintain a dedicated port)
    --
  • The FAQ on their website in answer to the question "Who should sign up?" states "Absolutely everybody". It does not say "Everybody running Windows 9x/NT". So maybe there is hope.
  • >Don't US users pay a lot more for 'long distance'
    >calls than we do anyway?

    I doubt it :) I pay AT&T $9.95 a month to get 5c/minute around the clock (they advertise $5.95 for 7c; you have to know about this one to ask for it). (mm, and I have to cross a state line, I think, but I don't have any in-state long distance, anyway).

    In my wallet is a calling card that I can use from any phone for 9c/minute to anywhere in the U.S.

    And it's tough to get past .25/minute at home under any circmstances.
  • Plus, then you can go to screaming.net and get free evening and weekend Internet access.

    Don't you mean free evening and weekend enganged tones? :-) Screaming.net is *far* too slow for me. They've created too tempting a service, and so have more customers than they can deal with. They don't have enough bandwidth or the number of modems needed to cope with the demand.

    I'd rather pay reasonable ISP and phone call charges to get a decent service.

  • 'Case you hadn't noticed, at the same time Oftel ordered BT to roll out ADSL, they also said something about "unbundling the local loop".

    What this means is, J. Random Telco will have a mandatory right to enter BT's local exchanges and, in return for a nominal sum, splice your local loop (the twisted pair cable in the ground between your phone and the System X exchange) into their system.

    This is exactly how the gas deregulation system works, and it's been very quietly mandated for telecoms. A bit late, I'll agree, but better late than never.

  • OK, so I'm not totally for metered calls, but they actually have a side effect that seems to get ignored.

    Ever wondered why most all of Europe is now fully covered by mobile phone towers, with the majority of the population owning a small, digital mobile phone - while the US is still mostly struggling with analogue systems, big, low-tech phones and most people still using just a pager if they have that?

    If people in the US are getting most of their calls "for free" anyway, then a mobile phone suddenly takes on a whole new complexion. Your not just paying a bit more for calls and the convenience - you're paying the whole lot on top of what you already paid in you standing charge to your land-line telco for these unmetered calls - why pay twice?

    So you get less take-up on the phones, so the mobile phone companies have less capital to feed back into the infrastructure, and lo and behold, the US is 5 years behind Europe in the next technological leap.

    OK, so this isn't totally down to unmetered calls - the shear size of the country makes getting coverage for each company really, really expensive, too. But I think it's a big contributer.

  • Well..

    Here in Norway, one of the richest countries in the world - we still have monopoly on the telecompany, Telenor. The normal working guy, have no alternatives to dial-up than a leased line - and thats EXPENSIVE up here.
    Some cabel companies have established here - but none of them delivers outside the major city`s.
    We pay aprox. 1-2US$ pèr hour for internet access.
    Thats because Telenor owns ALL the telephone-cables in norway.
    So - in UK, you at least have some sort of alternative.. we don`t. :)


  • >Don't US users pay a lot more for 'long distance'
    >calls than we do anyway?

    I doubt it :) I pay AT&T $9.95 a month to get 5c/minute around the clock (they advertise $5.95 for 7c; you have to know about this one to ask for it).

    Hmm, I can call from .nl to anywhere in the US for around $0.07 a minute with no monthly fees, billing per second.


    --
  • Of course, as the article says, some ISPs already give you a free 0800 number anyway (X-stream [x-stream.co.uk], for instance)... but it doesn't make a lot of difference, unless you get your kicks from listening to busy signals.



    Buckets,

    pompomtom
  • I used to live in Korea up untill 4 months ago. (Got transfered back to the good ol' US of A) I used to spend about $150.00 a month on phone charges related to my internet calls alone. Anything anywhere that brings down this cost can only expand out into other areas and nations. Good luck lowering those phone bills. Besides lower costs means more use, means more knowledge gained, means the more we all gain from increased brainpower in the pool.
  • Visit the website http://www.unmetered.org.uk/ [unmetered.org.uk] which explains the current state of legislation in the UK on telephony charging, what is being done to address it and why these announcements by BT & Freeserve are pretty irrelevent.
  • Back in the days I used to moderate the Internet Developers Association (now AIP) mailing list.

    European users would frequently ask people to trim their emails since the length was causing them to stay online longer and hence pay more...

    Anyway, I also remember when FidoNET was one of the better ways of sending email around the globe... Ah, the good old days.
  • by neutronic ( 67558 ) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @09:50PM (#1651329) Homepage
    I've been in comms in the UK now at one level or another since back in the days when SuperBBS, RemoteAccess 1 and FrontDoor 2.02 ruled the waves. Let's apply a little more thought to the metered calls situation here :)

    In the UK we only have one major telco - BT. There are others but to be honest they are still at a stage where they either can't supply the whole country or their service is not up to the standards. We had one bright light in the distance (Ionica) but that went bust.

    Now, at the moment it is *OFTEL* that are forcing BT to keep their prices at a competitive level so that OTHER Telco's can compete. While all the other telco's are struggling to provide free or near free calls BT charge as normal (although their prices are really coming down - it's less than 60p an hour now, which is around $1).
    If BT were to go unmetered for local calls then you'd almost immediately squash out the competition, you only have to look at FreeServe - they were one of the first (if not, THE first) ISP that did not have any subscription charges and they singlehandedly changed the face of the ISP market (I used to run an ISP, trust me on this one) in the UK.

    So we'd have unmetered calls for a while, the competition goes bust, and then BT might start to raise costs (justifying them all the way, *ofcourse*) and without any significant competition for their customer base to shift to what would happen then?

    The other major point to consider is bandwidth. Having run an ISP I know exactly how much bandwidth costs in the UK and trust me it is orders of magnitude more than in the US, while most startup ISP's in the US were coming on with a T1 (1.544 Megabit) line, startup ISP's were coming online in the UK with 64k or 128k Kilostreams and probably paying MORE for them.
    The same is still true, the numbers on both sides of the equation are just bigger now.

    You think it's slow in the UK during peak times? Difficult to get on? If we go unmetered at the moment the Internet will become unusable in the UK unless you have access to a fat pipe - you can forget dialups.

    Personally, I pay for my subscription to an ISP because I know that this means their subscriber to modem rate is going to be good, as well as their modem to bandwidth rate - which is equally important, not getting a busy signal is only half the story if you can't DO anything when you're online.

    I would personally love unmetered time online, but the bottom line is that I still want to use the Internet at a reasonable speed. I upgraded to ISDN 64k to get reliable connections at a decent speed and at the moment my 'pay for' ISP is happily able to fill a single channel or both channels whenever I require it. Until the cost of bandwidth, the lines themselves and the equipment goes down I believe that unmetered calls would spell the end to the Internet, certainly to any ISP smaller than Demon, AOL, UUnet or Freeserve.

    (whew) what a lot of waffle :) (/whew)
  • http://www.screaming.net [screaming.net] have been doing unmetered calls in the UK on evenings and at weekends for a while.
    Screaming Net is reportedly slow however. (it is a partnership between retailer Tempo, and telco LocalTel, just like Freeserve is a pertnership between Dixons and Energis)

    http://www.08004u.co.uk/ [08004u.co.uk]Are now doing unmetered calls 24x7. However you do have to pay 50UKP per month subscription. One day our telecoms regulator Oftel will get its finger out and sort BT out.

  • I meant AOL not BT, it's kinda early here....
  • I really hate the stupid attitude by Britain's own arrogant monopoly, BT.

    First they charge obscene amounts for ISDN, then we're informed that they will do the same [theregister.co.uk] for ADSL.

    I simply can't afford either ISDN or ADSL, and that prevents me from doing everything I want to online; Which could be starting up a new business or simply checking the news [bbc.co.uk]

    I can think of 3 different reasons for BT's attitude to the net:
    • BT want's to make as much money as possible
    • BT's management, like most UK directors, are completely clueless about the possibilities of the net
    • BT knows that eventually the net destroy most of their business and are acting to put off the inevitable

    I'd imagine that not too many Americans surf with one eye on the connection time. I tend to think "can I download this new sourcecode, nope that'll cost too much"

    :-(

    Metered Calls suck, ISDN costs too much and ADSL's price will be astronomical. Welcome to 18th century Britain...

    :-(

    :-(
  • I'd imagine that not too many Americans surf with one eye on the connection time.

    As an American living in Europe, I can confirm this. In the US, I had two phone lines so that I could stay online for longer periods of time. Here, I don't even own a modem on the computer at home. Luckily, the monopoly in the Czech Republic ends in just over a year, and hopefully that will help matters.

    If Telecom would decide to try and sell a whole lot of lines cheaply, instead of a few expensive ones, they would do a lot better. This goes for as well.
  • Just as an aside on not affording ISDN, the only real cost if you're on-line more than 10 hours a week is the installation, the higher line rental is off-set by a call credit.

    After getting Home Highway my quarterly bill dropped by £100. It's still too damned high though

  • "nationalist companies", nope BT was sold a long time ago.

    Perhaps if it didn't have to feed it shareholders free local calls would have introduced some time ago.

    This news item isn't really anything newsworthy anyway, the freeserve deal only applies if you make plenty of long distance calls, and the AOL deal actually make it more expensive that BT's rates-discount at weekend. It only makes sence for people who use it during the day.

    Only the introduction of low priced cable modems, or ADSL will get rid of the call charges, but without action from our toothless friend OFTEL, this doesn't look like it will happen.

    A free market economy also need competition to work properly, at the moment we have big old BT, and the dumb cable companies, nothign will be changing soon.

    F
  • You might also like to check out Alan's diary entry for September 27 on http://www.linux.org.uk/diary/
  • The popular debate about the price of internet access misses one crucial point: none of it is free. The ISPs who don't charge a fixed charge are usually described as "free". At the same time people want "free" local calls.

    Neither of them is free, in different ways. The first has no fixed charge but is metered through the telephone bill. The second would be unmetered but presumably have a higher standing charge.

    Now, you can make a case that telecoms are overcharging. But that is an entirely separate issue from whether calls should be metered or unmetered. And given a choice between everyone being metered or everyone being unmetered, I'd go for metered every time.

    Bandwidth is a scarce resource. By charging even a small amount for it you

    1. limit demand; and
    2. provide an incentive for service providers to upgrade their links, because if they can carry more traffic they immediately generate more revenue.

    I don't think it needs a high charge. I would guess that if the charge is metered instead of unmetered, the total charge would be lower for almost everybody, and the network would be less clogged up so that everyone could get their work, or play, done faster.

    Oh, and hasn't anyone noticed that this model is popular with customers? It's essentially the model that Freeserve and their 100 imitators use, that has brought the internet to 100,000 new Britons a week for the last year.

  • You don't have to ring up, you can set/change your friends & family and best friend using a Web form.

  • To be fair, though, it's not just BT. When BT was privatised in 1983, Oftel (the Office of Telecommunications) was set up to police their activities; at that point BT was a monopoly and Oftel was charged with preventing them suppressing the embryonic competition.

    The actual result is that the "competition" has tended simply to make their pricing policies follow BT (minus some %).

    As one of these moves, Oftel refused to give BT permission to provide free local calls. In 1983 this made eminent sense; if they hadn't, BT would be a monopoly to this day. Oftel also banned BT from cross-subsidizing business units, so that the ISDN roll-out (which would have been feasible in some areas as early as 1986) couldn't be subsidized by the profitable business and trunk sectors, forcing BT to develop it more slowly.

    The way in which Oftel applies this "no cross subsidy" rule can be rather bizare. One result of this was to push up the costs of calling cards.
    Since Oftel couldn't accept that it was actually cheaper for a PTO to operate this kind of service, since they don't need a stand alone billing setup or all the extra electronics to locate the hardware further than a few metres from the DMSU.
    Note that other UK PTO's also charge ISDN at a premium (or simply won't provide it to residential customers) even though there is little difference in real cost between ISDN-2 and POTS lines. Indeed the latter may actually cost more since codecs are required in the concentrator. (Anyone know what the actual differences, in price, are from GPT, NT & Ericcson?)
  • I was involved with the roll-out of ISDN to a number UK teleworkers a few years ago.

    We had a constant problem where the ISDN connection to one teleworker's home would suddenly fail. A call would be placed to BT to resolve the fault, and it would eventually be fixed. In some areas this could happen two to three times a month.

    I eventually managed to speak to a BT engineer. He stated that some BT engineers where cutting corners when connecting up unused pairs in the trunking system to traditional analogue phones. Instead of checking the documentation to discover which wire pairs were unused, to save time they measured the voltage across the pair - if there was no voltage it was assumed the pair was unused. Unfortunatly ISDN pairs also carried no voltage when not being used, and the ISDN pair got patched into the analogue network!

    Of course BT never admitted a problem.

    Also, when my employer relocated a few years back, it took almost a week for BT to get ISDN working to our new office. Since we relied on ISDN for our email communications to and from customers and suppliers, this was a major problem.

  • After looking at their website, it seems you have to use special software to connect to the 0800 service. Is this really true? If so, I guess there's no hope for linux connectivity.

    Harks back to the qwest thread from a couple of days ago. The way it works is that most UK ISP's like to provide CDROMS containing a tweaked version of a web browser and some set up script. Even though they virtually all use standard PPP anyway. However with some (including BT Internet) getting relevent information out of them is a "blood out of stone" type exercise. Even on Windows platforms the "pre-canned" setup is only guarenteed to work on a "virgin" setup of Windows. In any other industry customers would see this as a bad joke....
  • Are you trolling?

    it's one of those poor people one reads about
    Do you have to mock someone because of their personal wealth? If you feel you have to, then you have my sympathies.
  • Hmmm, living proof of what happens when cousins make love :-p

    MJL - magimix '99
    "Paradigm shifting without a clutch"

  • The FAQ on their website in answer to the question "Who should sign up?" states "Absolutely everybody". It does not say "Everybody running Windows 9x/NT". So maybe there is hope.

    Failing that there's the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Failing that there's the little matter of a law, passed in 1996, which requires goods and services to be "as described". So if they accepted someone's money without being able to provide the service the claim then they have to return that money (plus costs of requesting the money back, plus court costs, plus interest if that person sues them.)
  • But doesn't setting up the call (irrespective of whether it connects) form the major cost to teleco of a call? (For local calls) Most of the plant has to be be there in order to provide any service.
  • UK phone bills tend to include a quarterly "line rental" charge of around UKP30 ($50); in the US, that would be used to pay for local calls, and for additional services such as caller ID and call waiting. They all come at a premium here. Since BT are refusing to put substantial investment in the local copper loop until their licence is reassessed in 2001, there's no justification for customers having to pay by the minute to support an obsolete network.

    Fortunately, we're finally seeing the cable companies make a national impact. And one thing US readers should remember is that UK cable subscribers tend to get a phone line as well: once NTL rolls out cable modem access, BT will have to make changes.
  • Don't US users pay a lot more for 'long distance' calls than we do anyway?

    Newsweek [newsweek.com] explains the current situation in U.S. long distance.

    Basically, the U.S. long-distance telecos have to pay $0.04 in per-minute fees to the local telecos for access to the local network -- and are charging $0.05 a minute to customers for long distance. So, modulo the local telco access charge, long distance in the U.S. is essentially unmetered if you buy, say, the $9.95-per-month AT&T plan.

    If and when AT&T can get its newly acquired cable assets to operate as a local teleco, I would bet heavily on completely unmetered long distance soon following. (Maybe not from AT&T at first, but from somebody.)

    Now, OTOH, I have to pay a metered $0.15 to call a location 10 miles away, becaue that's a "zone call". It remains entirely on my local teleco's own networks, but, without competition, who is going to stop them? So 100 minutes to 10 miles away on one company's network costs me 50% more than 1,000 minutes 2,000 miles away on three companies' networks. It's an unstable situation, and it will change -- the FCC is being nasty about denying the local telecos the chance to get into interstate long distance until there's competition.

    Anyway, I expect in 5 years to have unlimited local calls, unlimited long distance, cable TV, and unlimited cable modem access for a combined bill of about $75 a month given current trends.
  • A realistic price for ADSL Internet access IMO: 1 Gigabyte free per month, .01 - .02 Euros for each additional Megabyte.

    I don't know about other DSL users, but I move anywhere between .25 to 3GB per day across my 1.5Mbit line. With a 6-20Mbit cable modem, I'm certain I would be able to consume far more. I know you surely meant this to be an off-hand number, but it does seem extremely lowball to me.
  • I don't have the source handy but there have been studies in the USA that found that most of the cost of providing local telephone service is providing and maintaining the subscriber's loop to the central office. Accounting and billing make up another large cost. The usage sensitive costs were a small percentage of the total cost.

    The usage sensitive costs are determined by the desired quality of service during peak usage periods. This means that off-peak usage doesn't increase the cost of providing the service.

    There are some cities in the USA that only offer measured service. The usage charges are far in excess of the cost of providing service. I've read that the actual costs are a few tenths of a cent per minute.

    Being more urbanized, it should be cheaper to provide telephone service in the UK.

    I was once told that many European countries used PTT revenues to subsidize other government programs. Is that still true?

  • In the USA, local phone rates are regulated by state public utility commissions, not the Federal Communications Commission.

    Flat rate or "free" local calling is not available in all areas of the USA. Some large cities, such as Chicago and New York, only offer measured service. In other areas free local calls are restricted to artificially short distances. The rates for intra-state long distance calls are very high. I can call across the country for substantially less money than a similar call across the state.


  • Your first point, that BT is a monopoly, is obviously utter rubbish. You don`t like BT? Go choose from any one of 20 odd. national and cable companies to provide your service. That isn`t a monopoly.

    Except many people in practice have a choice of 1
    possibly two companies to provide them with a telephone line.

    ISDN costs a lot? Do you have any idea of the work involved in installing an ISDN line? Nope, thought mot, it`s not a simple task, nor is it cheap. BT do not make buckets of cash from ISDN installations.

    ISDN2 was specifically designed to work over existing copper pairs, in the first place. Even if BT can make a case of difficulties due to old equiptment and cabling this only applies to certain places (and only to BT.)
  • The problem is the control BT exerts on the local loop. Until these telcos can get free & unfettered access to this last mile, the cannot compete in local calls and have to continue making their money by supplying national, international calls, bulk phone line installs and data.

    We'd love to be able to come in and drop ADSL right into your home / business - but until we get access to the exchanges this cant happen.

    And no i'm not saying who we are.
  • The cost of ISDN in the UK has traditionally been held high to prevent it from killing off BT's lucrative Kilostream service (64K leased lines). As BT controlled the local loop, they could charge excessive amounts for ISDN into the home.

    To be fair, though, it's not just BT. When BT was privatised in 1983, Oftel (the Office of Telecommunications) was set up to police their activities; at that point BT was a monopoly and Oftel was charged with preventing them suppressing the embryonic competition.

    As one of these moves, Oftel refused to give BT permission to provide free local calls. In 1983 this made eminent sense; if they hadn't, BT would be a monopoly to this day. Oftel also banned BT from cross-subsidizing business units, so that the ISDN roll-out (which would have been feasible in some areas as early as 1986) couldn't be subsidized by the profitable business and trunk sectors, forcing BT to develop it more slowly.

    BT's strategic response was to massively upgrade their network bandwidth, so that they'd be ready for video on demand in the mid nineties. Then Oftel dropped the other shoe and ordered BT to stay out of the cable TV business -- to protect the then-growing cable industry. (The UK's cable infrastructure was only installed in the early 1990's; technologically it's a couple of generations more advanced than that of the US, but it has lower uptake.)

    Today, however, circumstances have changed. There's a thriving cable industry, lots of competing telcos, 25% of the population have mobile phones (growing by something like 5% per year). The original Oftel objection to BT providing free local calls or VOD doesn't seem to stand any more, and it's writing BT a meal ticket by enabling them to keep line prices artificially high. They demonstrated this earlier this year; to protect their leased line business, when Oftel looked about to order them to roll out ADSL, BT cut the rental on a 64K leased line (with routers and IP traffic) from about 7000 pounds to 3000 pounds a year. If they can still break even at that price point, it suggests there are huge economies they can make elsewhere ...

  • Most people in the UK uses off-peak hours to connect to the Internet. If you use BT and register your ISP (local call) phone number as a so-called best friend number you'll be entitled to 20% discount to all calls made on this number. I'm just using this as an example, BT has more discount options on offer than any sane person would like to care - all at a cost of course.

    Depending on which options you would like to take the call to your ISP may cost from 1pence/min up to 5pence/min. If you're online for an average of 15 minutes per evening (and we all know it is MUCH more than that ;-) your monthly fee to BT just for the calls adds up to £22 (about $13.50). Doesn't sound like much, but this is an example for 15 minutes only.

    Personally I spend at least $20 a month just for the calls to my ISP. Add to that line rental, costs for all the discount options and the monthly fee to the ISP it really starts to add up!

    Luckily my company is based at an University an we're basically sitting on the campus backbone. The bulk of my downloads is done from work, if not for that perk I shudder to think what my monthly phone bill would have been!

    ...by the pricking of my thumbs,

  • In how many European countries do you actually have unmetered local calls?. I live in Denmark, and here you get charged a fee per minute for all types of calls (the fee varies if it is long distance or local).

    I think it the same story in my neighbour countries, but I could be wrong.
  • BT (and presumably OFTEL agree with them) would claim that you can provide ADSL. BT provide the ADSL line from the home/business to their exchange. Then they provide a (high speed) leased line to you over which they MUX together all of the ADSL connections.
  • I was at a Q&A with some BT people about a year ago. One of the questions asked from the floor was why phone calls are metered.

    Their answer (in the context of ISP services) was that if it wasn't then the phone system would get clogged with loads of modem calls, so we should think ourselves as lucky.

    Go figure.
  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@nOsPAm.hartnup.net> on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @10:35PM (#1651363) Homepage
    Much as my selfish side yearns for cheap, unmetered internet access, I feel that metered calls are a reasonable pricing scheme.

    Unmetered calls mean that someone who makes a five minute call to their parents once a week, ends up subsidising people who spend all day dialled in to their ISP. That's just not fair.

    Local calls *do* cost the telco money (the longer the average call becomes, the higher their peak capacity must become).
    --
  • After looking at their website, it seems you have to use special software to connect to the 0800 service. Is this really true? If so, I guess there's no hope for linux connectivity.

    Maybe it's possible to connec via windows, grab the connection parameters then use linux.

    Does anyone have any experience of this service?

    Thanks,
    Paul

  • Unmetered calls mean that someone who makes a five minute call to their parents once a week, ends up subsidising people who spend all day dialled in to their ISP. That's just not fair.

    Except that the costs of calls do not reflect the actual costs to the PTO of providing the service. Indeed it's been claimed that the most expensive part of a call is recording it and the toner which
    goes on the paper...
  • I don't want free calls, I want unmetered calls.

    That is, I want to pay a flat rate per month or quarter. I can then use the net for whatever I want, whenever I want.
    How many UK /.'ers wait for the 6pm price change before dialling?

    Note for US readers: In the UK, BT charges 4 pence a minute between 8am and 6pm on weekdays, 1.5 pence per minute between 6pm and 8am on weekdays and 1 penny per minute at weekends

    Oh, and hasn't anyone noticed that this model is popular with customers?
    No, You could only make this statement if there was an umetered alternative available. IMHO, if there was, people would drop BT faster than you could say "monthly charge."

  • This simply is not true. If you ask OFTEL - or check in deja for what their representative has said in uk.telecom - OFTEL has no objection to BT offering unmetered calls.

  • Maybe I'm being dim here, but why are metered local calls "stupid"? If you're calling from one line to another on the same exchange, then there's an argument that you're not using any of the telco's resources and so should be charged a flat rate.

    There are then issues of "tromboning" (a call is connected from a concentrator to the DMSU then back to the same concentrator) as well as
    what exactly is an "exchange".

    However, the "local" call regions in the UK, I believe, cover more than one exchange, and anyway,

    It's considerably more complex than than.
    There are situations where remote concentrators are served by a DMSU in a different charge point.
    Thus you have calls which use exactly the same number of resources get changed differently.

    most ISPs that provide "local" access don't actually have shed loads of real local PoPs.

    The additional complication here is that the 0845 number may be provided by a different PTO from either the originating or terminating line. At every point the call will incur an interconnect carge. (n.b. these have no relationship to customer call costs.)

    BT especially tends to hide this so a BT customer who only ever calls other BT lines is in effect subsidising those BT customers who call non BT lines.
  • In which case it would be to BT's advantage to have offered 0845 numbers to ISPs in the same way as other telecos. Then they would be able to keep all of the charges paid by the caller instead of having to pay interconnect charges to the terminating teleco.
  • Sure. But stop metering, and watch the cost to the PTO start mounting up.

    By the way, I'm all for an unmetered service of some kind, but I don't think it should be a telephone connection. Cable modems, DSL are going to be great (when they finally arrive at my backwoods abode ;) )
    --
  • There's a thriving cable industry, lots of competing telcos

    You have no idea how much I wish this was true. However, it's not. If I want a phone, I have exactly two choices: BT or Cable & Wireless. Mobiles aren't an option -- they can provide phone calls, but not ISDN or ADSL. Even if they could, living in the shadow of a large hill, mobile coverage at my house is poor from all four networks. So much for "lots of competing telcos".

    What the UK really needs is true telco competition. Cable infrastructure should be owned by a single regulated company, and the end user should get to choose their service provider. This is how gas works, for example. TransCo own the physical pipes to your house, but the actual gas comes from whichever provider you've chosen. As it stands at the moment, cable companies effectively have a government approved monopoly in any given area. That's great for the company, but poor for the consumer.

  • Actually, the race to get more bandwidth was actually driven by EC (which was then the EEC - where did that other E go? Oh yeah, on the gravy train to Brussels).
    EEC legislature forced European Telco's into providing fully digital backbones across each country.
    England was one of the first to achieve this, then got privatised (at a large profit to the cabinet ministers & cronies). I'm always amazed that countries like France & Germany are rabid pro-europeans, and yet last I checked, appear very low on the EU legislature compliance list...
  • How do I get on-line with Screaming.Net? There home page has a very nice news portal, but no mention of how to subscribe.
  • Maybe I'm being dim here, but why are metered local calls "stupid"? If you're calling from one line to another on the same exchange, then there's an argument that you're not using any of the telco's resources and so should be charged a flat rate.

    However, the "local" call regions in the UK, I believe, cover more than one exchange, and anyway, most ISPs that provide "local" access don't actually have shed loads of real local PoPs. They just have one huge connection to a telco and special numbers (0845, etc.) that are billed the same as local rates. Either way, all the time you're connected you're using resources. Why shouldn't you pay for them?
  • I live in Finland and the bi-monthly phone bill of my own line is something like 500 FIM (almost 100$) and I never call long-distance from that number...

    Local calls cost something like 1 cent/minute or something like that. You all should be happy to be able to call free...

  • I have just moved over from BT to Localtel and changed ISP to Screaming.net. I also use Linux. The site: www.screaming.net has a link to Localtel which is the people you need to speak to about free calls to screaming.net's lines. There are 2 drawbacks. You will get phone network unavailiable now and again and you get kicked off after 2hrs. But its fine with Linux if you have a bit of PPP experience or use RedHats PPP setup script under the control-panel.

    My experience is that if you are having trouble getting on due to the phone network being unavailiable then just keep trying.

    Lets face it its FREE...

    Have fun

    Rossi

    badsoft42@yahoo.co.uk

  • Here in the Netherlands we also don't have unmetered calls. Interesting side effect: there are now free providers. They live from a percentage of the metered calls. This shows that the telephone company makes so much many from these calls that they can give some of it away!

    Personally I hate metered calls and thats why I have cable (not because it's faster because here it isn't)
  • Theoretically we can provide ADSL. In reality, because of the way BT charge for access to their network it is impractical for any competition to do so until the local loop is unbundled (planned for 2002ish). What you're talking about is the wholesale deals BT offer to ISP's. What i'm talking about is the freedom for ISP's to choose to buy their ADSL connectivity from a telco other than BT.

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