Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications

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  • Quotations

    'There are a host of differences between telecoms in the US and UK. Different starting points, different geography, different cultural and legal traditions.'

    (From a reply from An OFTEL spokesperson to us)

    Notes: OFTEL begins to explain to a CUT committee member why we shouldn't expect unmetered calls in the UK on a wide scale any time soon. Different "cultural" traditions? Morris Dancing, warm ale and metered calls? What about hamburgers and the American films and TV programmes we watch?

    'Substantial cultural differences developed in the use of the telephone in the two continents, related to the much higher prevalence of telephones and free local calls.'

    Universal service - a Web-based case study in telecommunications policy

    Notes: This University of Wales study makes it clear that OFTEL has confused the chicken and the egg. The cultural differences it mentions are not a precursor to the unavailability of unmetered local calls, but vice versa!

    'Currently our great concern is that a minority of people will freeze up the capacity so that other people can't make ordinary phone calls.'

    Roy Payne, Head of Corporpate Communications at Cable & Wireless speaking on BBC News: It's good to talk for free.

    Notes: Roy Payne, of Cable and Wireless Communications, outlining the tragic consequences of unmetered local calls. He suggested that it would take perhaps twenty years of technological advances before the situation might be reviewed. We dispute this frequently used myth here. Contrast this with the next quote.

    'Our analysis shows that encouraging use of mobile phones through unlimited calling and call allowance tariffs promotes additional paid usage as well as generating inbound revenues. We expect both promotions to be revenue enhancing, as well as offering even greater choice for customers.'

    One2One Chief Executive

    Notes: A quote from the One2One Chief Executive. One2One is part-owned by the company (Cable and Wireless) which employs Roy Payne (see above). Spot the differences?

    'While an open market arrives to Europe, many cities in North America enjoy free local calls, and the European consumer must stand abusive rates. This point has a greater importance when dealing with [people with disabilities]. PwD have an average income well below national averages, and therefore the affordability of telecommunications is a key issue.'

    The Uptake of CMC [Computer Mediated Communication] in the EU Among People with Disabilities

    Notes: A site discussing how vital Computer Mediated Communication can be to people with disabilities, and how European telecommunications costs penalise it.

    We recommend that, without commitment to any one delivery system, the Government establish as a strategic objective for the first decade of the new millennium the development of a universal broadband infrastructure (including an adequate return path capacity) available to every home in the United Kingdom. We expect there to be several important staging posts in the pursuit of this objective, including,

    • the delivery of the Internet to all schools, libraries, hospitals and GP's surgeries by 2002;
    • the evolution of a policy for the availability of the Internet in every home, perhaps initially on the basis of a flat rate charge for a narrowband service for a limited period of time each week;
    • the development of a secure card for the citizen's transactions with Government;
    • and measures to ensure the widest possible availability of the necessary receiving equipment.

    Notes: [Our italics] From The Media Revolution, a Department for Culture, Media and Sport report.

    'There will not be a true information society until everybody is able to make use of it.'

    Notes: Rt Hon Barbara Roche MP (Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry), Hansard, 11th July 1997, col 1236.

    'The Information Superhighway could and should revolutionise our lives. At the moment, we are scratching at the surface of what it can deliver. There are concerns about bandwidth and the amount of data that can be squeezed down the pipe. It may not be sufficient for the two-way moving picture services of the future.'

    'The cable companies and BT are the key to installing the infrastructure for the information superhighway. A report from the House of Lords entitled 'The Information Society Agenda for Action in the UK' published on 23 July 1996, recommends that BT, Mercury and other public telephone operators should be allowed to provide and convey broadcast entertainment services by 2001. I want the Government to tell us at some stage, not necessarily today, whether they will allow that to go ahead so that BT can help us to get the infrastructure in place.'

    Nigel Jones (Lib Dem, Cheltenham) (IT professional and VERY enthusiastic net user), Hansard, 11th July 1997, col 1211.

    Notes: A lengthy debate in which Nigel Jones and others said much of interest. You can read the full text here.

    'Two key factors have delayed faster and deeper penetration of the domestic and smaller business markets: service speed and cost of access.'

    'This [service] offers power utilities the opportunity to market a basic Internet connection to customers at a flat rate monthly subscription. Paying a standard fee, irrespective of usage levels, will be a key attraction to customers.'

    Notes: From the Nortel Powerline brochure.

    The modern local exchange telephone switching architecture can readily accommodate the limited cases of high-use ISP/ESP activity cited by the BOC studies.

    Internet use is not responsible for disproportionately increased PSTN costs.

    Use of the public telephone network for Internet and on-line service access is not out of proportion to the subscriber access lines that have been installed to support such use.

    Notes: From The Effect of Internet Use on the Nation's Telephone Network which, in enormous technical detail, demolishes the 'clogged network' arguments - in the USA, which is generally agreed to have an inferior telephone infrastructure to this country and certainly has far higher Internet usage!

    The high cost of Internet access is a sore point for Internet consumers throughout Europe. Local phone calls are billed by the minute in Europe, making impossible the type of flat-rate fee structure that has made cheap Internet access the norm in the United States. As a result, Internet growth has stalled there: Online retail revenue in Europe will be 3 percent of what it will be in the United States in 1998, according to Forrester Research.

    Notes: From 'UK charging more for foreign access', a article about UKERNA; we have more to say on this.

    The best we can hope for, in the short term, is flat-rate access.

    Notes: An article from the Irish Times following the announcement of flat-rate Internet tariffs there. 'Cultural differences' indeed!

    'The National Consumer Council has recently concluded that 'affordable access to new services for all in their own homes is probably unachievable in the medium term.' To use them consumers need expensive equipment, such as a PC, or perhaps in future a PC/TV, and in the short to medium term, a modem (until communications links become entirely digital). Services themselves also need to be paid for. Even modest use of new services is unlikely to make a light user scheme an appropriate way to subsidise access for low-income households. New ways will need to be found of meeting demand for service among consumers who cannot afford the necessary equipment or line usage.'

    Excerpt from Information Society: Agenda for Action in the UK (23 July 1996). House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology Report.

    Notes: A seminal government publication that presents a clear case for wider access to online services in the UK. You can read the entire document here.

    And three years later:

    Local calls are definitely more expensive in the UK than they are in many European countries and in many areas of the United States. If it is not a disincentive at the moment, it would certainly be an incentive if local calls were free and they continued to be charged on that basis.

    Oral Evidence from National Consumer Council to (Parliamentary Select Committee on Trade & Industry Inquiry into Electronic Commerce, 23rd February 1999)

    Notes: In preparation for the Government's Bill on Electronic Commerce, the Trade and Industry Committee conducted an Inquiry into issues raised by the proposals. Whilst the Bill is designed to address technical issues such as the validity of digital signatures and encryption, the Committee widened the scope of its Inquiry to include accessibility and cost matters. You can read the Committe's Report here.

    The following quotes are evidence submitted to the same Inquiry.

    'In short, the cost of access to the information society in the UK is far too high and acts as one of the most significant barriers to the growth of E-Commerce. The need for an independent (Select Committee) enquiry into the situation is strongly indicated.'

    Notes: From the Telecommunications Managers' Association Written Memorandum.

    'HMG should acknowledge the direct correlation between telecommunications costs and the take-up of electronic commerce. Individuals, particularly the disadvantaged will only adopt Internet purchasing on a mass scale if the cost of "surfing" is negligible. Likewise SMEs and other businesses will only trade and compete effectively with their foreign counterparts if the incremental increase in revenues outweighs the cost of entry and ongoing cost of telecomms. These costs must equate to those of the Americas and the Asia Pacific region. OFTEL should accept the key role of ensuring the UK becomes competitive in the global electronic marketplace. HMG must also actively explore tax breaks, VAT exemption and other incentives to offset cost inhibitors.

    The wider issue of a telecommunications infrastructure is also key. The local loop is now considered as a serious bottleneck in the provision of high speed, high volume electronic commerce and information exchange. Appropriate regulatory and incentive frameworks should be introduced and driven by HMG to provide a catalyst for the provision of low cost, high speed (2Mb+) services to homes and business.'

    Notes: From SAP UK Written Memorandum.

    'If we introduce free anything, it means that we have then to get a subsidy from other parts of the business. We do not think that is the right approach. We think that a balance of charging for the facilities in terms of the relationship to their cost is the right approach, but there are then other customers (we have seen them in the United Kingdom) who will take those charges and package them up, with either advertising or other aspects of the business, and offer that free to the consumer. That is perfectly acceptable. I do not believe it is just in the aspect of whether the free call itself, at the local level, is free or not. It is something which is standing in the way of this exploitation. We have to look at the overall value proposition. The average internet use in the United Kingdom, if people doubled it, would probably add 50p or 1 a week. I do not think that is standing in the way of electronic commerce.'

    From Sir Peter Bonfield's (Chairman of BT) Oral Evidence, 2nd February 1999.

    Notes: Perhaps Sir Peter should re-read the representations made to him by us and others: we're asking for the option of an unmetered tariff, not the imposition of "free calls" on everyone. The man is clearly deluded if we could double our time online for 50p or 1 a week... If he's so sure that doubling our time online would cost so little, why doesn't he take the initiative and allow us to do so by reducing his company's tariffs?

    'From the Government standpoint it can encourage [e-commerce] by [...] reviewing the difference in costs and payments structures for telecommunication utilities, which is a major factor in the difference in take-up of the Internet and e-commerce in the US (and Canada) and the UK. Free local calls are a major incentive both to use the Internet for transactions that take time to complete, and indeed to allow children to surf the Internet as much as they like.'

    From Written Memorandum by The Post Office.

    Notes: On the face of it, increased use of the Internet threatens Postal services, but of course someone has to deliver all the items we buy online, so the Post Office has a vested interest in increased e-commerce.

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