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UK schools offered free Web access, free PCs and cash back from support calls

If you listen carefully you can hear teachers weeping for joy

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Thames Valley Internet company Voss Net, could be catapulted into the premier league of Internet Service Providers if its plans to offer free Net access to the UK's 32,000 schools take off. The AIM-listed company has signed a four-year agreement with registered charity Free Computers for Education (FCE) to provide the service. Not only will free Net access be available to the UK's two million schoolchildren, Voss Net's chairman and CEO, Roger Carter, is also hoping to persuade pupils to also use the service at home. It will also be offered to staff at Local Education Authorities when it's launched next month. Unlike other subscription-free services, Carter said Voss Net will pay back a proportion of the local call charge revenue to participating schools. The more schools, students, parents, teachers and governors use the service, the more money they will receive, he said. And unlike other subscription-free Net access services, calls made to technical support help lines will be charged at local rate and so won't incur a premium. FCE is planning to install between 500,000 and 1,000,000 recycled PCs in schools this year. The machines -- which are stripped down and used as dumb terminals -- are being donated by companies including IBM, NTL and NatWest and distributed by Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland. Although the PCs are free, schools have to pay for the server and network links although they can receive a government grant to offset the cost. ®

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