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Kingfisher swoops on free Net access

Plans replica of Freeserve model for all of Europe

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Europe is on the verge of an all-out Internet revolution following the announcement this morning that UK-based Kingfisher has joined forces with the investment house Group Arnault to offer subscription-free Net access throughout the Continent. Initially, it will only be available in France but both companies have plans to roll out the service throughout the rest of Europe, including the UK. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in France have reacted swiftly to the proposed launch of Libertysurf. In what can only be described as a knee-jerk reaction, Infonie and World Online France have both said today they will offer subscription-free Net access for a year to a limited number of people in response to the initiative. The panic, it seems, has already set in. Kingfisher and Group Arnault will each hold a 40 per cent stake in the new joint venture and the remaining 20 per cent will be held by parties providing management and technical support. "There is huge potential for Libertysurf and we have ambitious but achievable growth targets for the new service," said Bernard Arnault, chairman of France's Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy group. "In Kingfisher, we have found a partner with the experience and vision to ensure the success of this venture," he said. Libertysurf -- which roughly translated means Freesurf -- closely mirrors the UK’s Freeserve in a number of ways and both Kingfisher and Arnault make no secret of the similarities. The service will be distributed through Kingfisher's chain of Darty electrical stores -- just like Dixons -- and follows the broad principles proven by the Freeserve success. It will also supply content creating a portal with a distinctive national audience base. Unfortunately, more details as to exactly how Libertysurf will make its cash were not forthcoming. Despite announcing the service this morning, no one at Kingfisher was available for comment when The Register called – something else it has in common with Freeserve. A spokeswoman for Freeserve said that Kingfisher's move proved that the Dixons model for subscription-free access was right but refused to comment further on how this would impact upon the service. ®

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