01 February 1999

During the past month, yet more ISPs have joined the ‘free access’ trail to Eldorado [or ruin]. In alpha order the latest crop of me-toos are: BT Click Free; the publicly-quoted EasyNet [‘just look-ing!’]; Mirror Group, launching in March; and least but never last, Richard Branson’s Virgin Net. The road to Eldorado could, however, be barricaded by telecoms watchdog Oftel if it heeds the barrage of complaints from network operators, including BT. They argue that the sheer volume of calls generated by the ‘free’ services clog their networks [see first story] and the regulator is to issue a con-sultative document to all parties concerned. The congestion, it seems, would vanish miraculously overnight if Oftel allows the networks to reduce the cut taken by access providers! This could seriously compromise the viability of the so-called free services forcing the ISPs to revert to charging for access.