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AltaVista brings free ISP model to US mainstream

No call charges, and now no subscription charge

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Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

The recently sold-by-Compaq search engine service, AltaVista, could be about to spark a revolution in the US Internet access market. It has announced it will be beefing up its presence in the market by offering a free ISP package. In so doing it is shifting the financial emphasis of the ISP model directly on to e-commerce. Sold by Compaq to Lycos' major shareholder, CMGI, for $2.3 billion, AltaVista has said it will give customers free Internet accounts in exchange for personal information. This is part of a growing trend toward giving away services in exchange for information on subscribers' lifestyles, buying habits, income expectations and so on. Users of the service will be the targets of tailored online advertising campaigns. While the free ISP model -- pioneered successfully over here by Freeserve -- has turned the UK Internet market on its head, this is one of the first significant moves toward replicating the model in the US. Speaking in today's Wall Street Journal, AltaVista's president, Rod Schrock, said: "Free Internet access is the fastest-growing way for users to get to the Net. We're exploring those types of access solutions to make AltaVista an ever-present service." Free local calls in the US allow home users there to stay online without incurring the sort of phone bill that have put many in the UK off widespread Web adoption. The majority of US users still have to pay a monthly subscription charge to their ISP, but AltaVista's move could signal the end of all that. The service will enter a trial phase this month. ® See also Apple's ISP plan may hit the mark

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