BT introduced a new unmetered Internet service today that promises round-the-clock access for £14.99 a month.

The service, called BTinternet Anytime, will be available to existing subscribers in January and to new customers "shortly after." The British telecoms regulator Oftel imposed a 1 February deadline for offering a flat rate service to competing ISPs.

The service will be welcome news to many BT Internet subscribers, who currently pay 2p a minute for daytime internet connections.

But the news will be difficult to swallow for the half dozen ISPs that have had to withdraw their unmetered access programs due to British Telecom's onerous pricing structure.

Over the past year, breathe, Freecall, AltaVista, LineOne and World Online have all pulled their flat rate deals when they realised the business model could not support a large number of heavy users.

Freecall kicked 400 users off the system in November when it claimed they were "abusing" its 27-7 service by staying connected for as much as 23 hours a day. Freecall broke the news to 1000 customers in an email that said, "your patterns of usage are inconsistent with what we can support."

"You've seen a number of people claiming to offer unmetered packages who were unable to cope with the demand," says BT senior vice president Duncan Ingram. "One of the things you have with BT is we are here today and we will be here tomorrow."

BT's new service is clearly an attempt to compete in the 24-7 unmetered access market once the Oftel deadline passes and BT is required to offer a pricing scheduled known as Friaco, Flat Rate Internet Access Call Origination. Oftel ordered BT to introduce Friaco in May, but implementation has been patchy to non-existent.

The introduction of BTinternet Anytime comes at a time of encouraging metrics for BT's Internet division. This week Btinternet reached 500,000 customers for its evenings and weekends unmetered service which BT claims makes it the largest provider of unmetered access. BT says it's gaining 20,000 new customers a week.

Duncan says BT is well positioned to fend off AOL, which announced last month it would begin to offer unmetered access to its subscribers.

"We have been in the unmetered game longer than anyone else," Duncan says. "We have a strong brand and our customer satisfaction is going up month by month."