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France Telecom's New Flat Rate Pales to Upcoming ADSL Plan

France Telecom has finally launched its complicated monthly flat rate for ISP connections, but Internet advocates here are already looking ahead to the no-limit ADSL access the operator plans to offer this fall.

The discounted rate of FF100 (US $16.7) applies to 20 hours of local telephone connection to ISPs, but the upcoming ADSL plan will cost consumers FF265 (US$ 44).

Dubbed "Forfait Libre Accés," the new telephone-access rate charges FF5 (US 83 cents) for one hour of local connection, compared to the normal telephone rate of FF16.70 (U.S. $2.8) at peak hours (8am to 7pm) and FF8.70 after 7pm.

The new plan does not include an ISP subscription and applies only on weekdays after 6pm, Wednesdays after 2pm, and weekends and holidays.

"Globally, there is no advantage (to the new telephone rate) in comparison with Primaliste Internet," said Bernard Martin-Rabaud, a spokesman for the Internet users advocacy group ADIM, referring to the late-night access rate FT set up last year.

"We think France Telecom is trying to temporize until their ADSL offer will be marketed in November," Martin-Rabaud added.

Users can register up to three ISP access telephone numbers for Libre Accés. Unused hours cannot be carried over from one month to the next. The company has set up an automated voice line via which customers can monitor their usage.

France Telecom estimates that Libre Accés -- which does not apply to the company's ISDN service, Numeris -- will be worthwhile for those logging on over nine hours per month. The French telecommunication regulatory authority estimates the threshold at 13 hours per month.

However, heavy Internet users will be better served by the unlimited ADSL access the operator plans to begin offering in November, starting at FF265 per month for 500 kbit/s access and FF844 for 1Mbit/s access, not including modem rental at about FF150 per month.

The catch is that, initially, the ADSL offer will only be available in Paris's first six arrondissements, as well as three suburbs. FT expects to cover all 20 arrondissements by year-end 2000 and plans to invest FF2 billion (US$ 333 million) over the next three years to make the ADSL access available throughout France, the company said.

Libre Accés is already available nationally.

Although the new telephone rate represents a small step toward cutting the high cost of access in France, it further complicates an already convoluted collection of special plans that Internet users have to sign up for in order to avoid FT's high standard rates.

When the flat-rate's 20-hour limit is used up, or for connections outside the covered hours, users have to rely on FT's older plans, such as Primaliste Internet, which costs FF4.30 per hour from 10pm to 8am, and is valid for one ISP access number only.

Other operators, such as Infonie, plan to launch flat-rate offers this month. The ISP Club-Internet is planning an experiment to offer its users 40-hour plan.



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