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Dial-up Pay As You Go

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 24 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Utility Utilities Charge Telephone Phone

Pay As You Go access revolutionised the internet in the UK. Before the service was made available a few people bought PCs, for various reasons, and a few of them bought a modem and connected up to the internet, or perhaps to an online service like AOL or CompuServe.

0845 Access Changed it All

Those online services and internet access providers all charged a monthly or hourly fee, and some then charged for special services on top of that. The PAYG model dispensed with the monthly charges and introduced dial-up via an 0845 number, charged to the customer at the same rate as a local call.

The theory was that as BT paid the owners of 0845 numbers a proportion of the call charges paid by the consumer, that revenue would be enough to offset the cost of running the infrastructure.

Simplicity Fed the Boom

This meant that all people now had to do to get onto the internet was put a CD in their PC and plug the modem into the phone socket. No account setup and no waiting for login details to be sent through the post. And, of course, it was promoted as 'free', although many users rapidly found out that the 0845 call charges, cheap as they were, could rapidly mount up.

After 0845-based access was introduced, most popularly in 1998 by Freeserve, an offshoot of the Dixons Group, the mood changed and people started buying computers in order to get onto the internet. It was this seismic shift in PC usage patterns that then encouraged the infrastructure improvements to the networks and websites that turned the internet from a geek's haven into a usable tool for home and business.

Reality Bites

In fact, for Freeserve and many of the other 'free' internet service providers (ISPs) that sprung up, the call revenue from the 0845 calls was never enough to cover the infrastructure costs. The explosion in internet users caused by the very existence of these services meant that the ISPs had to keep ploughing money into beefing up the network.

At the time, the advertising revenue and funding thrown behind the tech boom of the tail end of the 20th century meant that this didn’t matter. But when the bubble burst, the advertising revenue disappeared and many of the ISPs vanished overnight.

Still a Valuable Tool

Today, with the majority of internet users on broadband, PAYG dial-up services are much less popular, but they can still easily be found and are still valuable tools for low usage customers.

If you are in an area where you can't get broadband, or you only want to dial-up to send and receive emails every now and then, it might well be worth looking for a PAYG service. Most of the major ISPs still offer it and there are a few smaller ISPs who specialise in providing only dial-up services.

Make sure you know how your telephone company will treat the 0845 (or sometimes 0844) number to make sure you're not getting overcharged. Also watch the call charges carefully as each bill comes in. If your usage begins to mount up, you might be better off moving to broadband, or, if that's not available in your area, a flat rate dial-up service.

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