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British Telecom will this week sign a deal with Netscape to use the latter's software to provide a free email service and -- yes, you've guessed it -- an Internet portal. According to Sunday Business, BT's service will be called Talk21, and will be marketed toward Net users who connect from cybercafes, libraries and WebTV-style offers. In other words, not traditional PC users. BT has a rare opportunity to bite deep into the portal market. Unlike other portal provides, with the possible exception of MSN, it has sufficient marketing clout to promote its service through channels other than the Internet. Success in the portals business is about leveraging the number of users you have to flog advertising space. BT's brand name and immensely deep marketing pockets put it in a good position to win friends and influence people in ways Excite, Infoseek, Netcenter, Yahoo! and all the others can't hope to match. Except, perhaps, by striking deals with PC companies (see Dell to offer ADSL Net access), as per Dell/Excite and Compaq/Yahoo! Still, BT's approach centres on people who don't use PCs for Internet access. Are there any? Certainly the typical clientele of London's Cyberia are US students and tourists keeping up with their email. But there's always BT's forthcoming pay-as-you-surf Internet service, Click+, modelled on its Wireplay pay-as-you-play games scheme, and for which Netscape is also providing the software, according to Sunday Business. BT, of course, is refusing to comment on speculation, but Netscape has already worked out similar arrangements with France Telecom and Dutch group KPN. ® Click for more stories

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