UK telecoms regulator Oftel has ordered British Telecommunications to provide ISPs with flat-rate connection to its network, opening the door to increased competition in the nation’s web access market.

From February 26, BT will have to charge a single, flat-rate fee for connections between local exchanges and operators’ networks. Previously, it was obliged only to offer flat rates for connections between local exchanges and individual users.

“Today's decision should ensure that UK consumers continue to have some of the widest choice and lowest prices for internet access in Europe,” enthused Oftel’s director general David Edmonds. “It should encourage more UK consumers to take advantage of the internet without the worry of running up high telephone bills.”

The move was welcomed by some of the major beneficiaries: “We applaud Oftel for finally seeing this process through and delivering a victory for UK consumers,” crowed AOL’s Matt Peacock, adding pointedly: “We first put this model to BT a year and a half ago, and that is a very long time for consumers to wait for something which has been widely available in the United States for years.”

In addition, BT must enhance its network to cope with “all reasonable demand” by February 2003, until which time it and other telecoms operators are required to work together to use the current capacity as best as possible. Continued Edmonds: “This will allow consumers to start benefiting from the service and give BT time to make the necessary changes to its network so it can offer the product on an unlimited basis as soon as possible.”

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)