INTERNET telephone kiosks in Bolton, installed at a cost of £360,000 just three years ago, are to be ripped out - because hardly anybody uses them.

The 42 kiosks, subsidised by the council, were hailed as innovative and ground-breaking when they were introduced across the borough three years ago.

But now BT engineers are to replace them with standard pay phones.

Bolton Council used a European grant to pay BT £360,000 to set up the 42 kiosks in a pilot scheme that began in December, 2003.

It was the first of its kind in the country.

But from a high of 56,803 web hits - individual internet sites visited - in February 2004, the figure fell to just 7,048 in August 2006.

Cllr Ebrahim Adia, Bolton Council's executive member for development, said: "This seems to be part of a national trend.

"It could be that more people now have access to the web at home and at work."

Each of the the 42 internet phone kiosks has a computer screen and keyboard for accessing the web.

Access to public sector websites is free, but for using other sites the charges are 10p minute with a 50p minimum charge. It costs an extra 20p to send an email.

Under the pilot scheme, a further nine internet points were provided in Bolton At Home offices and two in the Town Hall One Stop Shop.

The scheme began successfully. It was nominated for national and industry awards and similar schemes were introduced across the country.

But then use of the kiosks began to decline.

The least used kiosk, at St John's Road, Chew Moor, has averaged only 20 minutes of internet use per month since it was installed in January, 2004.

Even the most popular, at the Town Hall, has attracted little more than six hours of use per month on average.

The council had the option this month of renewing its contract with BT for a fee of £2,000-a-year for two years.

But the decision was taken out of its hands when BT decided to remove internet facilities from all of its on-street kiosks throughout the country.

Work will start in March on changing the kiosks in Bolton.

A council report said: "The kiosk project was regarded as innovative and ground-breaking when it was introduced.

"But even though this was only some three years ago, such is the pace of technological change that in a very short space of time, they have become redundant in their present format."

BT says it will continue to support the internet facilities at the town hall and in Bolton At Home offices until at least the summer of 2008.

The council says it will develop alternative facilities and will use the money saved to further develop its website.

A BT spokesman said: "We can confirm that following a strategic review that highlighted the decline in usage, BT will be removing its base of public internet kiosks and replacing them with normal payphones."