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A new venture is promising to offer free broadband access to the Net via satellite for ten million people in the US and five million people in Britain.

InternetHyperGate.com claims it has the technology to turn a PC into a "multimedia monster" by providing free set-top-boxes and PC cards to consumers who want to take up the offer. It claims to offer Internet access via satellite at download speeds of 2Mbps. It says the service will be free. In return, it appears the company would require users to fill in a questionnaire each month about their online habits, and to use its credit card to purchase goods online. The service is aimed at consumers and SOHOs.

According to Neal Lachman, VP and vice CEO, the service will be the "most advanced network in the UK" when it launches in April. Lachman declined to answer any more questions about the service.

While many Net users have already expressed their interest in InternetHyperGate.com some have voiced their concerns about a service that appears to offer the proverbial free lunch. Ian Charlesworth, an analyst at the Butler Group, said: "If there are no subscription costs you inevitably look for a catch."

But he said that it was not inconceivable that the provision of user information and the credit card link could be enough to offset the costs involved in the service. And since the detail behind the business model has yet to be confirmed it impossible to say for sure exactly how the service will work.

Charlesworth also pointed out that the economics of setting up a satellite service are different from a normal landline-based ISP. "The set-up costs are fairly astronomical but maintenance costs are fairly low compared to standard dial-up ISPs," he said. "We've recently done some research on Net access via satellite and this is an area we think could grow." ®

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