Internet – Threat to free Net access

Companies such as Arsenal football club and Tesco, which have jumped on the free Internet access bandwagon, could be under threat from BT and the telecoms regulator Oftel, accountants warned this week.

Last week, BT decided to scrap its ‘pay as you go’ BT Click service and confirmed that it would be replaced by a service called Clickfree, available through BT’s part-owned portal site Excite.

The provision of free Internet services was made possible by the charging structure that gave telecoms suppliers a cut of the revenue from calls placed through BT’s 0345 and 0845 local rate numbers. But following complaints from telecom companies – including BT – that the free surfing boom was straining their infrastructure, Oftel decided to re-examine the charging structure. The regulator is due to report by the end of February.

Greg Mook, assistant director of PricewaterhouseCooper’s corporate finance practice, predicted Oftel would not unplug the regime overnight. ‘There would have to be a gradual process with some predictability,’ he said.

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