Unmetered access means that the costs you incur when you're connected to the Internet from your computer are the same irrespective of the length of time you remain online - be that 15 minutes/week or 8 hours/day.
We have updated this advice page to reflect the many developments in 2001 which have greatly helped to simplify unmetered access.
When you set up your computer to connect to the Internet, there are three different elements involved, each of which may incur costs for you:
Telephone connection: Your computer "talks" to the Internet through its modem. This modem is connected to your phone line. You need to have a phone line supplied by companies such as BT, Cable and Wireless, ntl, TeleWest in order to connect for which you will pay a line rental.
Internet Service Provider connection: To connect your computer to the Internet, you need an access agreement with an Internet Service Provider (ISP). There are around 150 ISPs in the UK at the present time, some free and others charging a subscription.
Telephone call charges: When your computer connects to the Internet through your ISP, you are using your existing telephone line and incurring call costs. Virtually all ISPs provide you with an 0845 or 0844 access number which means that your call charges are at 'local rates' which in practice means 2-3p/minute during weekday daytime, and 1-2p/minute during evenings and weekends.
This is metered access. The longer you stay connected, the higher your telephone call charges. Staying connected for an hour will cost you between 60p and £1.50 depending on the time of day. The more you use the Internet, the higher your call cost bill. Unmetered access gets rid of the call cost element.
Is unmetered access appropriate for me?
For most uses, the answer will be 'Yes'. We recommend that if you use the Internet in the UK for more than 15 minutes each day you should be considering unmetered access. The more you use the Internet, the more money you will save by switching to an unmetered access package.
How do I get unmetered access?
Here's the good news. Unmetered access has just got a lot simpler and cheaper. In previous editions of this Advice Page, we recommended that BT customers should subscribe to BT SurfTime at £19.99 per month plus your ISP subscription (if any). This advice is now superceded.
The main ISPs have all introduced all-day, unmetered access subscription packages, for less than £15 per month. Just sign up with AOL (£14.99 per month), BTinternet (£14.99 per month) or Freeserve (£12.99 per month) to their unmetered access package and that's all you need to do. Dial in to their servers using a special 0800 or 0844 number which they supply to members and all your internet calls are free. Some ISPs will disconnect your call if the line becomes inactive, or is left on for more than two hours, but you can reconnect again immediately.
Several of these companies also offer a cheaper unmetered access package if you restrict your surfing to evenings and weekends.
Alternatively, if a cable company supplies your street with TV and telephone services it is worth considering switching to their supply. Cable companies such as ntl and TeleWest can supply you with analogue and digital television channels, telephone services and Internet access for a fixed monthly charge. A typical cost is around £30/month but this is dependent on the number of services you include in your contract with them. Most of these companies offer unmetered Internet access provided you are using their telephone services as well.
Please note that the unmetered access package previously offered by RedHotAnt has recently been suspended.
Over to you
If you have experiences and comments about unmetered Internet access in the UK we'd be interested to include them. Please use the Comments feature below to share your reactions with us and other readers of this page.