THE BATTLE FOR UK INTERNET access supremacy began in earnest on 6 March with the announcement by Alta Vista of a new flat fee service free both of access and call charges. Within twenty-four hours, Brit-ain’s largest cable network NTL followed suit with an unmetered fixed fee offer and on 8 March BT lum-bered into the fray with a range of packages that it claimed [wrongly] were at least as cheap as those in the US. Two days later, free ISP LineOne, jointly owned by BT and United News & Media, announced it is to abolish web call charges as from 31 March provided users commit to spending at least £5 per month in voice call charges with, a privately-owned telecoms startup owned jointly by BT (49%), Bank of Scot-land (25.5%) and Unisys (25.5%).

Another observer, Shobit Kakkar of Fletcher Research, believes that only ISPs with “hundreds of thousands of subscribers” will attain the critical mass necessary to attract big advertisers and major e-commerce deals. The knock-on effect could be the closure or merger of lots of smaller internet companies, Kakkar warned, re-sulting in reduced consumer choice.