Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications

  • Benefits of Unmetered Telecommunications
  • UK Education and the Internet
  • E-commerce and the UK Economy
  • What if the US Paid BT Local Call Rates?
  • New Technology Lowers Telecommunications Costs
  • Underlying Metering
  • Hull as Utopia
  • From the MD of COLT
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  • Benefits of Unmetered Telecommunications

    Achieving the full potential of the Internet has been the primary driving force behind the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications, as it is Internet use which has highlighted the iniquities of metered tariffs. Metered local call charges are the single most important factor inhibiting Internet use in the UK today, limiting growth in both the number of users and their extent of use. The offering of flat rate monthly price plans that allow for unlimited local calls as is common in the US and Canada will result in numerous benefits to the people of the UK. These benefits are substantial with some of them having nothing to do with the Internet and we do not believe that we are overstating our case by saying that they will improve the quality of people's lives. The most important benefits are:

    • Promotes Education: People, regardless of their economic situation, will be able to use the Internet as a powerful research tool enabling them to access information in minutes that previously was only possible by a time consuming visit to the library, bookshop or newsagent. With unmetered calls, students will freely use the Internet after school and in the evening on weekdays rather than waiting for the weekend because of the lower phone rate charges. Whilst the scenes shown in a recent ISP's television advertisement about a child having nightmares because of the phone bills caused by his internet use perhaps may not be a daily occurrence, it is only a matter of time before they are.

    • Facilitates e-commerce: The Internet is rapidly changing the way business is being done, not just in the UK but all over the world. The US has led the way in using the Internet for e-commerce and the UK must follow suit very quickly if it wishes to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised world. e-commerce benefits the UK consumer by creating a truly competitive market that offers the consumer lower prices through increased transparency of prices and reduced advertising and distribution costs. It also allows UK merchants to inexpensively reach a global rather than just a UK market.

    • Improves Internet Access: Unmetered local calls will encourage people in the UK to use the Internet at a time that is most convenient to them rather than based on the relative costs of access. The vast difference in local call charges depending on the call's time and day of the week have created an undesirable pattern of Internet usage in the UK. This pattern is the extraordinarily high degree of Internet use on weekends which has created Internet access congestion. This is not due to congestion of the local phone network as this can easily accommodate the volume of calls. Internet response times from websites is considerably slower than during weekdays. This is because of server congestion which delays the processing of page requests and routing congestion on the Internet itself. With unmetered local calls, UK users will be able to spread their Internet use out over the entire week rather than just concentrating their use on the weekends thereby alleviating congestion problems.

    • Promotes Social Discourse: The way people in the UK use the phone for voice calls will change greatly for the better. Once flat rate plans for local calls are offered, local phone usage in terms of minutes per month per line is expected to at least double. People will be able to phone each other locally as often and as long as they will want without any increase in their monthly phone bill. As a result, people will be in better touch with one another and happier for doing so. For too long in the UK, the people have been led to believe that local telephone use is a precious, finite resource which needs to be metered at a high price to avoid clogging the phone network. This is nonsense, as we point out in The Network Can't Cope. One effect of this dramatic increase in UK phone use will be to encourage the installation of second phone lines so that more than one person in a household can use the phone at the same time. Currently, only 2 per cent of UK households have a second phone line as compared to 18 per cent in the US.

    • Improves the Environment: Improved communications at a reasonable cost lessen the need for travel. With unmetered local calls, the need for local travel will decrease as people will be able to talk on the phone or use the Internet for long periods without the fear of running up a large bill. People will be able to do things from their home that previously required them to travel outside. They will communicate with their friends more frequently by phone. They will be able to work from their homes as telecommuters without the fear of open-ended costs to themselves or their employers. They will be able to go shopping for a wide variety of goods and services, compare prices and have them delivered to their doorstep at a very reasonable cost and all this will be accomplished much more quickly. People will use their cars less as a result, reducing air pollution, decreasing traffic congestion and lessening peak period demands on public transport. In the longer term as broad bandwidth services such as ADSL become available, video conferencing over the Internet will allow meetings to be conducted with all the participants located miles apart. This will not only lessen the need for local travel but long distance travel as well.

    • Encourages Rural Development: The lessened need for travel described above will allow people to more easily work and live in rural areas promoting a balanced development of the UK countryside. This will alleviate the population growth pressures on UK cities and their attendant congestion problems.

    • Helps the Handicapped and Elderly: The elderly and people with disabilities often depend on their telephone as a lifeline from their home in interacting with the outside world. However, UK local call charges have hindered them from using this lifeline to its full potential because of its high cost and their often-limited incomes. They will be able to talk freely and often to friends and loved ones. The Internet offers the elderly and handicapped a gateway to the world from where they can actively participate in a wide variety of activities from the comfort and safety of their homes.

    • Assists the Unemployed in Finding Work: Job-hunting is never an easy task, but it will become easier and significantly less costly with unmetered local calls. Most job hunting is done locally and it usually requires the making of numerous local phone calls and faxing or mailing of CVs. The use of the Internet to find a job is also becoming important for both seeking out and responding to job opportunities but this requires spending a lot of time online, often at peak times. The result is a very large phone bill for someone who is in a difficult financial situation.

    • Reduces Family Strife over Phone Use: The day the phone bill arrives is often a tense day in many UK households. Whether received monthly or quarterly, the phone bill is often the bearer of bad news. Unexpectedly high charges provoke an immediate investigation into the cause. Since local calls are fully itemised it is easy to determine who was responsible for excessive usage and to take corrective action. How many wives have been admonished not to talk so much to their relatives and friends? How many children have been chastised for spending too much time on the Internet? How many teenage boys have been punished for lengthy calls to their girlfriends? How many husbands have been scolded by their wives for exceeding the family budget? This happens in numerous households across the UK and it is not limited to just low or moderate income households. Even students at the prestigious and expensive Westminster School in London have been told by their parents not to use the Internet on weekdays because it ran up too big a phone bill.

    • Ensures Personal Privacy for Local Calls: The very act of metering local phone calls and itemising them on phone bills undermines a person's right to privacy. The phone bill can be used to determine who a person calls, when they call them and how long they speak to them. Analysis of a phone bill can give insight into the character of a person through revealing whom they call and associate with in their immediate vicinity. This lack of personal privacy with respect to local calls can also contribute to family strife.

    The above list of benefits is far from exhaustive but we have tried to cover the most significant. If you feel there are any others worth specifying here, please let us know and we will consider them for inclusion.

    Text by Charlie Sands

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