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The Mirror Group has set its sights on becoming a major Internet portal after it announced today that it was entering a strategic partnership with US Internet Service Provider (ISP) Zip2. The Mirror Group's regional division, which includes the Birmingham Post and Mail, Coventry Evening Telegraph and 34 weekly titles, will help provide customised local material for users of this new online newsagent. The announcement exceeds earlier speculation that the newspaper group was to offer branded subscription-free Internet access similar to those services offered by Arsenal FC and Toys R Us. But the company has also signalled its interest to become an ISP in the future. With traditional newspaper circulation falling as part of a structural decline in the industry, the Mirror Group's move could be interpreted as a bid to compensate for the drop in sales. But well-briefed spin doctors were quick to stamp out any speculation that this was a significant shift towards online publishing by the Mirror Group. Instead, John Allwood, CEO of Mirror Group believes this move will ensure that the group will stay ahead of its traditional competitors. It will help the Mirror Group establish a sustainable market leadership over the new generation of digital competitors, he said, before they gain a foothold in local UK markets. "This strategic alliance is central to our strategy of providing a range of integrated media and communication services at local and national level that compliment and build on each other," he said. Zip2 hosts and maintains nearly 200 consumer Web sites in major US metropolitan areas, including the New York Times and Knight Ridder Morris Communications. ®

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