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Free services take UK into Web lead

More Brit PC owners have a Web connection than any other European users

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Survey 'Free' Internet access (well, with BT's tariffs, not really) has propelled UK home users to the lead in Europe, according to new market data from Datamonitor and NOP. Although there are more PCs in Germany per adult (46 per cent compared with 39 per cent in the UK), only 15 per cent of the Germans ( a third of PC owners) are connected to the Internet, whereas in the UK it is now 19 per cent (half). The French, Italians and Spaniards lag with only around a quarter of the PCs being linked to the Internet. It is surprising that the survey puts Spain (39 per cent) ahead of France and Italy (32 per cent each) in PCs per adult capita. Of particular interest is the finding, from interviews of 12,500 consumers, that free services are used as the only provider for 76 per cent of users. AOL is second, with 74 per cent of its users accessing only AOL. It is expected that the proportion of users with multiple accounts will increase from the present 11 per cent. Dixon's Freeserve is the free leader. LineOne -- pushed by News International (the Murdoch press: Times, Sun, News of the World) and BT -- has achieved 240,000 users. The consequences for AOL, Demon and their ilk cannot be very good, but the potential advent of free telecom access, albeit with advertising to pay the way, could change the situation dramatically again, since most non-free service users probably spend more on telecom charges then Internet access charges. The impact of telecom charges for Internet access may not yet have registered with new users, in view of BT's quarterly billing. What remains to be seen is how the quality of service of the free services holds up. Freeserve satisfaction rates were 92 per cent, compared with 90 per cent for AOL, according to the survey, but users may have been confused between being satisfied with "free" rather than a good quality of service. In addition, users without previous experience of access through a non-free ISP may be more easily satisfied than those who have had a reasonable ISP. It will be interesting to see whether free access services have a significant impact on online shopping. ®

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