50 Pence for the Next 10 Minutes, Please -- Mark Townshend <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote in response to Paul Durrant's letter last week in NetBITS-006 about how some UK ISPs don't maintain points of presence (POPs) all over the country, but rather forward calls to a central, vast modem pool. I asked Paul and Mark about how this was managed, since in England both the ISP (for the forwarding) and the customer (for regular metered service) had to pay per-minute charges. Paul also followed up with the fascinating statistic that five percent of all local calls in the UK are to Demon, an Internet service provider. Mark writes:
Most UK ISPs use non-geographic numbers to provide coverage of the whole UK. These numbers are called "Lo-call" and use STD codes which are charged to the caller as a local call. The ISP does have to pay for this inbound leg of the call. British Telecom, which is about the most expensive, charges 5.16 pence per minute peak and 3.42 pence per minute for off-peak calls if you commit to a five year contract and use 48 million minutes a year. [Editor's note: that's about three pounds or $5 U.S. per hour for peak usage and two pounds or $3.50 U.S. per hour for off-peak.] This is the charge to the recipient and is in addition to the cost to the caller.
All non-geographic numbers terminate at a normal telephone number and there can be advantages to calling the underlying geographic telephone number. At present, Cable & Wireless in the UK has a special offer for calls on Saturdays for the rest of the year. You can make any UK call for as long as you like and only pay 50 pence. This only works with geographic numbers and therefore all customers of ISPs that offer Lo-call access lose out. If you can get the underlying telephone number, then even if the resulting call is long distance, you can stay online for 23 hours and 59 minutes for 50 pence.