Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications

NTL to remove unmetered Internet access for some (19 February 2001)

NTL have unilaterally decided to remove the unmetered (cable-cable) Internet option from their telephone call plan on February 28th.  This special Internet promotion was inherited from Videotron and passed through Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) (1996) to NTL (2000).  It brought in tens of thousands of subscribers to Videotron and will affect several thousand remaining with NTL.  These subscribers decided that they will benefit from the extra 10 monthly charge (imposed by CWC) for an unmetered Internet connection.  The enforced '3-2-1 Call Plan' Internet call has a 4.9p connection charge with a currently unspecified per minute (metered) charge, even though the connection is cable-cable.

It was exactly three years ago (to the month) that subscribers decided to challenge CWC, as CWC also planned to remove this same unmetered option.  To the informed, this was perceived as a backwards move from unmetered Internet connections.  With various official bodies taking a positive interest in CWC's methods, the unmetered plan remained, but with a 10 surcharge added.  Similarly, NTL have also decided to remove it.  There are some very familiar features reminiscent of three years ago: the principle, the illogical timing and the chaos with their customer services department.  (Not to mention, of course, the mis-billing that may again occur, whether it stays, or goes.)

    w  The principle of unmetered communications was the prime issue that established CUT.  Of the English-speaking counties of the world, the UK is still lagging behind.  Telecomms companies continue to deny the minimal costs to themselves of local calls, yet try and justify the excessive metered (per minute) charging.  Especially within their own network, eg. cable-cable (NTL), the cost of calls contains no inter-connect charges through other telecomms systems.  There is also no difference between a voice call and a dial-up Internet connection, yet NTL have decided to exclude other Internet connections (ie. their own are privileged) in their 3-2-1 cable-cable plan.

    w  The timing of this change has not been thought through carefully.  There is nothing available at the moment to take its place.  NTL World cannot be obtained on their own lines until at least April.  If the same problems occur as there have been with availability of their CDs, it may not even take place in this half of 2001.  The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who are being used with this cable-cable plan were not aware of the February 28th change-over.  They therefore did not have enough time to make adequate contingency plans or push ahead with their FRIACO offerings.  If NTL subscribers are being removed from the plan, they will be left in limbo.  Subscribers have been given a month or less notice.

    w  As exactly what happened with CWC, NTL's customer service department simply do not have a consistent response.  Some subscribers have been confirmed as having this plan remaining; some that it is discontinuing; some that it is increasing in price; and some that it will be remaining, but with a connection charge.  NTL's customer services have even phoned subscribers back, giving various responses.  However, customer services do not write letters of confirmation, even though this would be classified as a variation of contract.

So, where do these subscribers stand now? - currently still not knowing whether their plan remains, or goes.  For many of those who are using this unmetered connection, over the last 5 years or so, it has changed their life style - they have become accustomed to the electronic age - relying heavily on e-mail, and other Internet-related means of communications.  Because of the favourable terms, many have established and maintained their same ISP and e-mail address for over 5 years.

The solution: until a definitive answer is given (and in writing), the current subscribers remain uncertain as to their future.  If the plan is definitely being removed, there will be a large exodus from NTL's customer base.  Many have already left, migrating to other unmetered plans such as ADSL or BT Surf Together.  Others have simply left because they are not prepared to go through the similar fiasco that they had with CWC.

The bottom line is that it is a badly planned and timed move - with very poor customer communication.

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© CUT 2001. Last updated 19 February 2001.