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MS considers free Net access for US

Looks to Freeserve in the UK for 'AOL-killer' business model

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Widespread free Internet access could be coming to the US sooner than everyone expected, thanks to Microsoft's latest aggressive plans to attack AOL. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, MS bosses are at the very least looking at low-cost Net access. "We intend to be aggressive with access," said Brad Chase, VP of Microsoft's new consumer and commerce group. The effect of UK free ISP Freeserve on AOL UK can't have passed Microsoft's leaders by, so it's not hard to imagine the company taking a similar approach. After all, bundling free Net access isn't so different from bundling free Net access software. The only snag would be Department of Justice concern. That would suggest that if the company does opt for the no-charge route, it would be tied solely into MSN. According to the WSJ, MS is even considering partnering of acquiring indpendent ISPs to provide the back-up for such a service. Mindspring and EarthLink were two major ISPs mentioned by sources close to Microsoft, the paper revealed. That should worry Apple, for one -- EarthLink is one of the few major US ISPs that are Mac friendly. It has also be closely linked with the Mac maker's own plan to break into the ISP business. Some ISPs in the US are already offering subscription-free access, so Microsoft's latest posturing could be designed to hurry things along in the spat over instant messaging (IM). Last week, Microsoft and others wrote to AOL calling for the adoption of an industry standard on IM as soon as possible. The deadline for AOL's reply is tomorrow. ®

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