Free ISP mania hits US

UK plague goes stateside - first we sent them The Beatles, now this...

The US is enjoying its first taste of subscription-free Internet access and according to the latest figures it appears punters over there think it's simply scrumptious. Californian-based NetZero -- which began offering a free dial-up service five months ago -- has confirmed that it now has 500,000 registered users and the numbers are growing all the time. At worst, this places NetZero at around thirteenth in the US ISP popularity charts. At best, NetZero is now among the top 10 ISPs in the US making it one of the elite. According to the company's own estimates, it will hit one million users by June and a whopping four million by the end of the year. Although this progress is impressive, Dixon's FreeServe only took eight weeks or so to pass the 500,000 milestone. Nor is NetZero the first ISP in the US to offer subscription-free access. Other companies have tried it -- and failed -- but what sets NetZero apart is that it offers nationwide dial-up access. Nonetheless, if NetZero's service -- which is funded by advertising revenue -- continues to make ground there is every possibility that other subscription-free services could start springing up everywhere in the US. Net users in the US -- already mollycoddled by the widespread availability of unmetered telephone calls -- could be on the verge of a revolution that would make the UK's experience appear insignificant by comparison. So, is it wise to think the unthinkable? Could the subscription-free model that has done so much to change the Net landscape in the UK do the same in the US? No one is prepared to say. Just remember, a little over six months ago no one had ever heard of FreeServe. Today it's the number one ISP in the UK with over 1.25 million users. ®

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