No such thing as a free lunch

Free Net access not all it's cracked up to be

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) - which promotes the interests of ISPs in the UK - has warned that the current trend towards free Net access may be short-lived and that consumers need to be wary before signing up. Although there is strong evidence of a new economic model for ISP's being developed, there is no guarantee that free Net access will survive in the medium to long term, according to Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of ISPA. "It's a little simplistic to say that subscription-based Net access is dead and buried," he said. "I still think there will be a demand for a pay-for subscription market. "Price isn't everything. The quality of service, connection and technical support all need to be considered," he said. Lansman was speaking after yet more companies revealed they had followed Freeserve's lead and started offering free Net access. The mail order company, Software Warehouse, launched Softnet earlier this month and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) announced that it is offering free Net access to all of its 122,000 members in the UK. In addition, Callnet has joined ICL-backed VIP to join a growing number of companies offering brand-customised access. The apparent success of Freeserve -- which last week announced it had attracted 550,000 subscribers in less than three months -- appears to have prompted other service providers to jump on the bandwagon. While Freeserve has cut the cost of Net access in the UK, Lansman warns consumers not to jump in headfirst. "Consumers should be careful and read the small print before signing up to a new ISP. "They need to ask themselves, 'is it really free?' -- the money has to come from somewhere." ®

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