U.K. Consumers Enjoy Low Telecoms Prices, Says Oftel

[London, ENGLAND] Oftel, the official U.K. telecoms watchdog,
has issued a report that says British consumers are continuing
to benefit from some of the lowest prices in Europe for telephone
and Internet access.

Recently accused of complacency by Internet industry leaders,
Oftel now insists that consumers in the U.K. enjoy services
that are comparable to those in the U.S., including the
cheapest unmetered Internet access for businesses in Europe.

Director General of Telecommunications David Edmonds said the
survey shows that compared to many other countries, U.K. prices
are low, and continue to fall.

However, he made no mention of the quality of service — or
of the fact that consumers are regularly charged for calls
that fail to connect them to their Internet service provider.

Oftel published its first benchmarking survey in May and has
now produced a second survey based on comparisons made during
August between U.K. prices and those in France, Germany, Italy
(mobile only), Sweden, and the U.S. states of Ohio and California
(Internet only).

“This second survey shows that U.K. consumers continue to get
extremely good deals with significant price reductions, particularly
for residential Internet customers,” claimed Edmonds.

Edmonds insisted that the availability and price of unmetered
Internet access in the U.K. is much better than it is in the
rest of Europe. Only Germany has significantly lower prices
than the U.K. for mobile services, and this, according to Oftel,
is largely attributable to bigger handset subsidies in Germany.

There is little doubt among observers that the U.K. Internet
industry has traditionally been handicapped by not having had
unmetered access until recently. Even now, just weeks after
AOL’s announcement of a low-cost unmetered deal, only a minority
of U.K. users have an unmetered service.

For example, according to free ISP tracking site Net 4 Nowt,
CompuServe is only now beginning to offer trial unmetered
services — and may not decide what type of service to offer
for another two months.

A recent report by Iowatch found that 53 percent of business
ISPs in the U.K. are failing to meet their service level
agreements.

As for broadband access — the U.K. lags far behind the
United States. There have been more delays recently in
local loop unbundling, and companies such as chello which
have pan-European broadband networks are not yet established
in the U.K.

By looking at prices alone, Oftel may be seen (in medical
terms) as failing to treat the whole patient.

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