Although details are still sketchy, it has been confirmed that Alta Vista will be launching the UK’s first unmetered ISP with no subscription charge. All the consumer has to pay is a £30 one-off set-up charge – although rumours of a £10 yearly charge for ‘administration’ have also been bandied about.
The service will be initially limited in the number of users who can sign up – but there are conflicting reports on how many this will be. The FT quotes an Alta Vista spokesman as setting the maximum at around "several hundred thousand" – while the Sunday Times has announced that it will be around 50,000. Also rumoured is a built-in banner ad bar, although other reports rule it out.
Limiting the number of users should stop the problems that plagued earlier attempts at unmetered services, such as Tempo’s screaming.net (which one industry figure, who wanted to remain nameless, described as "having gone down on more people than the Titanic").
It should not be too long before other ISPs follow suit, and it is expected that a price war will follow similar to that seen at the launch of subscription-based unmetered and semi-unmetered services last year.
So where will it end? Here's some Digit speculation: Alta Vista’s deal may seem great, but wait until there’s a service with no set-up charge. This again may pale next to a no-charge-ever service with shares thrown in as well. It can’t be too long until ISPs are paying users to sign up – and with most of these company’s stock value being based on headcount and most of their revenue coming from click-through sales and advertising, this is not as ludicrous as it sounds.