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Branson hits out at AOL as Virgin offers freebies

Watch out for the not-so-free support call charges though

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As Virgin Net announced plans to jump on the free ISP bandwagon, Richard Branson has condemned AOL for taking its customers for a ride. Branson said today: "I read this morning that Frank Keeling, marketing director of AOL, believes that people will always be willing to pay to look at interesting and relevant content. We are offering it to the customer along with free access." Users of Virgin's free service may find they get stung by the £1 per minute charge for calls to the telephone support service. Dixon's Freeserve came under fire in November (see earlier story) for using a premium rate phone line service for support calls. It later halved the cost of support to 50p per minute. Alternatively, Virgin customers can receive free support for a reduced monthly rate of £5.99. AOL remains stubbornly determined not to bow to pressure and offer a free service itself. Virgin Net's new free access will be available to its existing 150,000 customers from 1 April and to the rest of us from 1 May. Virgin Net believes it will be able to offer a greater depth of content than other free ISPs and has claimed that its service will not slow down with the increased volume of traffic. David Clarke, chief executive of Virgin Net, said: "We will move all our existing subscribers over to the free package and then ramp up our operations to expand the offer to the general public." ®

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