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Energis tests viability of 0800 services

Kicks off scheme with ISP minnow to see if it’s worth beefing up

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Energis -- which reportedly carries 50 percent of all the UK national Internet traffic -- is to offer toll-free dial-up access to the Internet to see whether such a scheme would be commercially viable, The Register can reveal. It has teamed up with Shetland Isle-based ZetNet to provide 0800 access at weekends for the ISP's seven thousand or so subscribers. No one at ZetNet was prepared to discuss the deal but The Register has learnt that users would revert back to an 0845 local-rate call charge during the week in a move that mirrors BTInternet's own offer of weekend toll-free access. Energis wants to see whether the money it makes from carrying weekday access to the Net will be enough to cover the cost of offering a toll-free service at the weekends. Sources close to the deal confirmed the tie-up between Energis and ZetNet although exactly when it will happen has yet to be disclosed. Although the exact details of the promotion have yet to be ironed out ZetNet will not receive a penny from Energis. Instead, the telco will shoulder all the risk. The question, though, is why? What has Energis to gain from offering such a service? It could be that Energis is running the trial ahead of rolling out 0800 access for Freeserve, it's biggest ISP customer. However tempting, such a move seems unlikely since Energis and Freeserve currently share the cost of phone calls made to the service via the interconnect charge. There would be little left after their share to subsidise toll free dial-up access to the Net. No one from Freeserve was available at press time. Maybe Energis wants to turn its business-to-business ISP Planet Online into a more consumer-orientated service, or even launch a new consumer-based brand complete with 0800 access. Or perhaps Energis will offer this facility to other ISPs -- including existing customers -- enabling them to compete more effectively in an already seam-splitting marketplace. Both of these options are feasible. Unfortunately, no one at Energis was prepared to comment. ®

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