Yahoo! scraps charge for Web access in UK

Portal giant may take free service into other countries

Leading portal Yahoo! has become the latest high-profile company to offer a subscription-free Internet access service in the UK. Yahoo! Online -- which is free of charge for users except for a 50p a minute charge for help desk support -- is funded from revenue generated by the interconnect charge and replaces Yahoo! Click which was launched last November in tandem with BT. Back then, many people criticised Yahoo! for adopting the pay-as-you-go service -- which slapped a 1p a minute fee on top of the phone call charge to cover the cost of Net access -- instead of opting for a subscription-free service popularised by the likes of Dixons FreeServe. Nonetheless, Yahoo! has kept faith with BT, which is providing the network and no doubt supporting this new venture in the guise of its own subscription-free service BT ClickFree. For the moment at least Yahoo! Online is only available in the UK but Kate Rider, spokeswoman for Yahoo! UK, said the company hadn't ruled it out for other countries. "It's all dependent on local market needs and requirements," she said. Earlier this month, Yahoo! announced an agreement with Germany's second largest telco, Mannesmann Arcor, to offer a pay-as-you-go service for users. Both services are branded under the common name of Yahoo! Online and are part of Yahoo! Europe's strategy to move into Internet access services – a move that could seriously challenge the leadership of established online service providers such as AOL and CompuServe. This potential threat to AOL becomes even more apparent after today's news that Yahoo! is branding its subscription-free service for booksellers Waterstone's and the music group HMV. In return, Yahoo! gets two important ecommerce partners that should help drive online sales through its portal site. ®

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