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Freeserve to hit one million accounts soon

Excitement may be short-lived

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Whether you love it or loathe it, it's impossible to ignore the Freeserve phenomenon that in just 16 weeks has turned the UK ISP market on its head. Today, Dixons -- the company behind the free Net access service -- said that it now had 900,000 customers, making it the world's fastest-growing ISP. But as quickly as some parts of the country have been covered in a thick covering of overnight snow, so too might Freeserve's dominance thaw and melt away into nothing. In February, telecoms watchdog OFTEL will publish a consultation document on Number Translation Service (NTS) and ask for comments from the industry on whether this should be revised. Officials at OFTEL are keeping mum about any proposals they have but you can guarantee that Freeserve -- and all the other companies involved in providing "free" Net access -- are waiting anxiously for it to come out. Put simply, OFTEL could end up revising the pricing structure that is being used to fund these "free" services. If that happens, and the revision is significant enough, then the charging infrastructure used by free ISPs could collapse -- and so could Freeserve. Either way, every dog must have its day and Freeserve isn't going to let this minor detail spoil the party. Even when it admitted that only 700,000 accounts (of the 900,000) were active, it still makes it the UK's number one service -- something that must make executives at AOL purple with rage. The company added that, on average, 8,000 people joined its service each day -- 40 per cent of whom were new to the Net. And in a thinly veiled attempt to silence critics who maintain that Dixons is making money out of the £1 a minute charge for technical support calls, it claims that it saves consumers on average £150 a year by providing the free service. Now, how can anybody not fail to be impressed by that? ®

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