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BT responds to Internet critics;News;News amp; Opinion

BT has agreed to offer a cheap new Internet access rate to colleges, libraries and citizens advice bureaux after claims that its charges policy was restricting access to the Web for low-income learners.

BT has also extended its cheap Internet access rate for schools to evenings and weekends, although they will have to pay an extra pound;404 a year for the privilege. The company had been criticised for restricting its cheapest service to 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday during term time. More than 13,500 schools have already signed up for the existing daytime deal.

The announcement came after a plea from National Association of Head Teachers president Chris Thatcher in this month's TES Online magazine, for BT to end the restrictions.

The issue was put back on the agenda recently after a large number of schools received huge phone bills - running to thousands of pounds - for calls made inadvertently outside the free daytime period.

However, BT is still restricting the cheap Internet deal to term time, meaning schools that offer classes over the summer will have to pay more for Net access.

Subscribers to the pound;790 a year Schools Internet Caller ISDN tariff will have to pay an extra pound;240 a year for evening access and a further pound;164 a year for weekend access -- a total of pound;1,194. Schools subscribing on an ordinary telephone line are charged less.

The proposed tariff for all UK public libraries, colleges and CABs would cost pound;1,200 a year for unlimited daytime access and another pound;300 a year for evening and weekend access respectively.

Patricia Hewitt, the e-commerce minister, and the Office for Telecommunications (Oftel) have welcomed BT's Public Institutions Caller proposal, which is due to start in April, and Oftel has issued a consultation document. However, it pointed out that the scheme may not be suited to institutions which need high-speed broadband access, which is necessary for colleges with large numbers of staff and students. Oftel expected BT to make proposals about broadband access in the near future.

BT Schools Internet Caller: 0800 672 655.

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