AOL UK is to make its unmetered Internet-access service available to all British consumers rather than just existing members. AOL's Mac software will be compatible with the service, according to the company.
The company has also broken with its policy of not revealing its subscriber numbers, saying it has passed the one-million mark. AOL stopped issuing figures after it was overtaken in members by Dixons' subscription-free ISP Freeserve.
Big dividends The last time AOL UK gave numbers, 18 months ago, it said that it had 600,000 subscribers, less than half Freeserve's at the time. Giving out such data now is a clear sign it feels its unmetered strategy is paying big dividends.
In September, AOL UK announced that it was rolling out a £14.99 a month flat-rate Internet access package to its longest-standing members with others allowed to come on board within weeks.
This avoided it overloading its network and gave time for its network providers to get FRIACO (flat-rate Internet access call origination) in local exchanges. FRIACO can make offering unmetered access economical for ISPs. It means British Telecom has to offer them a flat-rate wholesale tariff rather than charging them by the minute.
Rivals suffer Most of AOL's rivals have had to withdraw or curtail their unmetered services because they could not afford to let their members dial up and stay online all day for a monthly fee when the companies were paying BT by the minute for the call.
AOL UK said today that its flat-rate plan had driven record usage and uptake in its existing member base. Subscribers were staying online for an average of an hour a day, close to US usage levels. The company said it would be distributing flat-rate CDs in 240 Asda supermarkets from November 13 and consumers could dial an 0800 number to get the required software.
"Today marks an historic turning point for the interactive medium in this country, as we at AOL UK are fulfilling our pledge to stop the clock for UK consumers," said AOL UK managing director Karen Thomson.
"AOL flat rate is the fruit of our efforts to reform the outdated UK metered telecoms regime so that consumers everywhere can truly make the Internet a central part of their daily lives."