London -- British MSO Telewest Communications plc is
reporting early success following the launch of its "SurfUnlimited" flat-rate
Internet service, which it is pitching to its 1.6 million cable and telephony customers.
During the service's first week on the market,
Telewest said its national call centers took more than 100,000 registration inquiries --
some three times the highest-ever rate for cable-TV services. "I am confident that
this will grow our market share," CEO Tony Illsley said.
Telewest has 4.5 million homes in its franchise area. The
company is also in the middle of a merger with content provider Flextech plc.
The service, launched Feb. 14, offers unlimited access to
the Internet for $16 per month.
SurfUnlimited is Britain's first unmetered Internet
service. Telewest calculated that people using the Internet an average of 30 minutes per
day could save up to $25 per month compared with traditional dial-up access, which charges
users for each minute they use the phone line.
SurfUnlimited is a primer for Telewest's "Active
Digital" broadband-Internet service, which is scheduled to launch next month.
The United Kingdom's other major MSO, NTL Inc., has
been largely quiet about flat-rate Internet access. One industry insider suggested that
NTL had been "caught with its pants down" amid the launch of SurfUnlimited.
However, an NTL spokesman denied that the company was unprepared, saying that it is
"looking very seriously at our options."
The advent of unmetered Internet access and access via
broadband networks puts pressure on telco British Telecommunications plc to lower the
price of its own flat-rate Internet-access service, which has three tiers ranging from
$16.50 to $56 per month.