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The Internet - UK Telephone and Connection Charges

Make your voice heard - sign petition for free local calls

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We have all heard of the Internet revolution and the changes it is making in our ways of doing business, learning, shopping or even playing. But that is in the States, here in the UK it is a different story. Why does the UK Internet lag so far behind the tremendous growth in the US or Canada - cost - the cost of telephone calls and ISP subscriptions.

It is possible to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to suit most pockets from Free (though you may you have advertising on your screen) to £30 or more a month. Paid ISPs (and many free ones) offer a range of services which may include e-mail addresses, web space, search engines, free browsers, chat lines, news services and groups.

One objection to their pricing system is that, as with so many items available on both sides of the Atlantic, a price of $8.99 (approximately £5) gets translated on this side of the pond to £8.99 (ca $15).

A more serious objection is to the Lo-Call system which works along the lines of the ISP buying the privilege of a Lo-Call number so their customers are charged at local call rate for connections. I was given to understand by a BT representative (who wishes to remain anonymous) that many ISPs receive a percentage of the on-line charges their customers make with BT. This Lo-Call system also saves the ISP the expense of providing local pops (points of presence with a local dial up number) across the country. Many ISPs and some of the newer telephone companies provide a Lo-Call number for their Internet customers, so as well as charging customers for other services (not always their internet connection) they also have a nice little earner in the shape of percentage receipts from the on-line charges their customers clock up.

It is ironic that many ISPs who used to boast how well they covered the country with local pops are now changing over to the Lo-Call service - just when we are seeing the introduction of some telephone services which will provide subscribers with free local calls! I can understand the Free ISPs using Lo-Call - everyone has to make a dime - and their Internet services are free, but I have a feeling other ISPs are making more than a fair dime or two!

By patronizing the BT Lo-Call service ISPs are helping to keep the cost of Internet high for the average user (both personal and business) - this might mean quick money now, but the continued high cost of the Internet to British consumers will mean lower growth and slower development which will mean reduced income from this technology for everyone (including the ISPs) as other countries take advantage of the UK's absence from this market place.

The Real Killer
The real killer of the Internet in the UK is the cost of local calls. In the US and Canada local calls are FREE (no discounts that take an Einstein to work out, often just a one off nominal monthly charge then - zilch - nada - rien - nothing - gratis). Think how much this could save YOU. How long do you spend on the Internet? 12 hours, 20 hours, 40 hours a month? What if you did not have to pay for those calls? How much more would you use the net if local calls were free - not a 'bonus' for customers who pay extra for the privilege - not as a result of spending an inordinate amount on other calls - but just plain FREE.

Instead of devising nifty ways of parting us from yet more of our 'hard earned' BT, ISPs and other telecoms providers should look at the possibility of putting UK users on a level playing field with the US by providing free local calls. Perhaps this is where the government should step in if they really mean what they say about wanting Britain to lead the world in the new technology.

The high cost of the Internet is not only our quarterly phone bills. The restrictions caused by cost are affecting our adoption of the latest technology. A web site designer has to remember that because of the telephone charges it is going to cost the UK site visitor more than one a US visitor. The UK web designer who designs exciting and innovative sites will be penalizing the viewer, so there is a tendency to encourage UK designers to design sites which do not use the technology to the full in order to keep down the costs to those visiting. Can anyone really appreciate a great design which takes considerable time to download to their screen, when they know every graphic and technical gizmo added to the site is increasing their phone bill? The knock on affect of this is to reduce the skills required by UK designers. If a skill is not required why teach it, why acquire it? This in turn will reduce the technical and computer skills base available in this country now and in the future. UK businesses will lose out more and more to foreign companies that can afford to use the Internet as a sales tool. And, perhaps most important of all, the high telephone charges mean the educational use of the Internet in this country has to be rationed reducing the educational resources available to our children even more, and reduction of resources can only lead to lower standards, disadvantaging our children in the world of tomorrow.

The government is now taking action over the Y2K bug, but maybe more far reaching are the detrimental affects on our education, business and skills base that are being made by BT's and other telecoms companys' pricing policies. Government must take the lead if they wish the UK to be part of the computer revolution of the 21st century and insist telecom companys' pricing structures for local calls be brought into line with those of the US.
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