AOL claims Dixons Freeserve bubble will burst

High helpline charges to blame, says erstwhile top UK ISP

Defectors tempted by free Internet access from Freeserve are beginning to return to AOL's fold because of the high cost of Dixon's technical support line, the top online service has claimed. And despite Freeserve's phenomenal growth, AOL has experienced no substantial drop in membership, it maintains, although it concedes that people have defected to its rival access provider. AOL's claims follow Freeserve's boast earlier this week that it had become the most popular ISP in the UK after netting more than 500,000 accounts and relegating AOL to second place (see Freeserve spells end of AOL's UK supremacy). And the news coincided with a story in today's Daily Telegraph slagging off Dixons for charging punters too much to use its Freeserve technical support line. The £1-a-minute telephone helpline is used by people who find it difficult to log onto the Internet. "If people start getting bills for £100 they're going to get pretty hacked off," said one disgruntled Freeserve customer speaking in the Telegraph. "People look at this and think it's a free service -- they don't realise," he added. A spokeswoman for Dixons said running up a tab like this was highly unlikely since the company calls people back after 20 minutes if a problem remains unresolved. Typically, calls only last around four minutes, she said. ®

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