British Telecom (BT) is set to provide cheap rates for Internet calls, a top UK national newspaper reports.

The Guardian cites “industry sources” as indicating that BT is “likely” to announce phone numbers with lower tariffs that will be dedicated to Internet access.

There is growing concern in the UK – particularly from business and government – that the high cost of Internet access in this country, may weaken the UK's market position in the burgeoning ecommerce market.

With retailers now offering a slew of opportunities for domestic ecommerce, many businesses feel that BT's metered-charge structure for UK Internet access is prohibiting the growth of the medium in this country.

Jocelyn Cole, a spokesperson for AOL, suggests that, since the introduction of AOL's penny-a-minute Internet-access pricing structure, the company has seen Internet use-patterns even out among UK users. “This is similar to the pattern seen in the US, when the telecom companies ceased to operate a metered calls strategy for Internet usage,” said Cole.

BT spokesman David Orr said: "We can't confirm the story." When asked if he could deny it he said: "BT is actively looking into a range of options regarding the issue of Internet pricing. We are considering various options, and we are meeting with the telecommunications regulator. In terms of the timescale for implementation we can't really say."

AOL is among many organizations that feel it's way past time for BT to offer a pricing structure that encourages Internet access, and use in this country, so that Britain can exploit the opportunities that ecommerce has to offer.