Campaigns: Lobbying - AOL clocks on for flat internet fees

Client: AOL UK

Client: AOL UK



Campaign: Stop the Clock - the campaign for unmetered internet

access



PR Team: In-house and Regester Larkin



Timescale: February 1999 - ongoing



Budget: Part of overall UK and pan-European corporate communications

budget



AOL UK is an internet service provider whose subscribers often log on

when telephone tariffs are at their peak. Once the UK’s leading ISP, it

has faced serious competition from Dixon’s Freeserve.



At the beginning of 1999, AOL began questioning UK internet access

charges.



It argued that the direct correlation between internet usage and

e-commerce revenue meant metered or pay-per-minute on-line access

penalised consumers and the UK’s economic potential. AOL wanted to allow

its customers to pay a basic flat rate for its service and to compete

with other ISPs on content and service levels.



The issue of telephone charges and BT’s grip on the market came to a

head this year. Telecoms regulator Oftel received a complaint from US

company MCI Worldcom that BT had rejected its request for a wholesale

unmetered internet access service, while planning to launch its own

unmetered service, Surftime, on 1 June. AOL has stepped up its efforts

to communicate the need for a fairer, streamlined system.





Objectives



To persuade the public, the industry and Oftel that there should be a

switch from metered to flat-rate phone line charges.





Strategy and Plan



Last February, AOL UK and its corporate reputation agency Regester

Larkin began exploring the issue of internet access charges with key

business correspondents and IT specialists in the media. They focused on

explaining why unmetered rates mattered, how change could be achieved

and the implications for the future of the UK’s internet economy.



AOL linked with pressure groups, including the Campaign for Unmetered

Telecommunications, to ensure that it was in touch with consumers. Last

June it surveyed 11,000 customers and discovered that 92 per cent

spontaneously identified phone costs as the biggest single obstacle to

spending more time on-line.



It was vital to get the regulator and UK and European policy makers on

board. AOL Europe’s general counsel Claire Gilbert created a business

model of flat-rate internet access which the PR team used to explain its

case to Oftel and lobby key politicians.



Over the past 18 months, AOL has also communicated the benefits of

unmetered internet access charges to its own industry at functions and

conferences.



AOL Europe chief, Andreas Schmidt, urged business leaders to join the

campaign at the Jupiter Consumer Online Forum in October.





Measurement and evaluation



AOL UK used media analysis companies, including Metrica, to track and

measure the impact of its messages on consumers and business

audiences.



AOL was mentioned in a large proportion of the media coverage. A key

milestone came last October, when the Times moved coverage of internet

access charges from its business pages to the core news agenda and

launched its ’Free the Net’ crusade.



AOL evaluated consumer reactions using its on-line notice boards and

usage figures. In the four months following the launch of its 1p per

minute flat-rate phone tariff in September, AOL’s traffic more than

doubled.





Results



On 26 May, Oftel ordered BT to allow competitors to use its network to

sell unmetered net access in direct competition to BT’s Surftime. AOL is

currently working to accelerate the date from which it can offer

lower-cost flat-rate internet access plans in the UK.



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