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BT jumps on free ISP bandwagon

Not much room left -- AOL may find it has missed the bus altogether

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BT has buckled under pressure from the Freeserve and other subscription-free Internet access providers and scrapped its pay-as-you-go Click Internet access, replacing it with a new free service. The launch of BTClickFree was made just four months after the UK's biggest telecomms company launched BTClick, which charged 1p a minute above the standard call charge for Internet access. And it comes less than 24 hours after BT -- along with its partners News Corporation and United News & Media -- said it would stop charging for its online information service LineOne. The new service requires no registration and is available immediately. Telephone technical support will be charged at 50 pence a minute. BT's Click partnerships with portals Yahoo.co.uk and Excite.co.uk will continue being charged at the old rate. John Swingewood, BT's director of Internet and multimedia, said: "BT has introduced ClickFree in response to customer demand for a free service combining reliability and the quality of service which they have come to expect from BT." A spokesman for BT attempted to divert attention from the shift in strategy saying that Click was just "a trial" and that the company had been working on a subscription-free service since Autumn last year. This U-turn by BT, which has until now doggedly refused to comment that it was to introduce a subscription-free service, will further isolate AOL UK, which has continued to stand firm against providing any form of subscription-free service. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for AOL UK reaffirmed that it had no intention to scrap its subscription charges saying that the service was attracting new members despite the explosion of subscription free services. Whether it will maintain this position after today's announcement remains to be seen. ®

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