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The outbreak of the internet-access price war is good news for consumers as well as for the start-up companies - many of which will require a large consumer base if they are ever to see profits. More significantly, it represents the first real step towards a world where everyone can access the internet "any time, any place, any where" - via a mobile phone, TV or PC. The internet will become a universal medium, like TV or radio. Consumers beware - read the small print. The cost of providing dial-up internet access has fallen for the telcos, but not to zero. Beware of deals that give with one hand and take with the other. People may be confused by a complex choice of bundled internet and voice tariffs. Call charges are just one of the costs consumers have to consider. The dominant means of internet access is currently through the PC - still a luxury item for many. Universal access will only become a reality with low-cost, mass-market devices. The other key internet-access devices will be wireless application protocol (WAP)mobile phones, which are just starting to appear in the UK. However, the cost of surfing the net from your mobile phone can be up to 35p a minute. How long will it be before a price war breaks out in the mobile internet world too? Many people are apprehensive about the internet. It will take more than free access to tempt them online. They will need incentives such as free vouchers to take advantage of online shopping, banking and government services. Finally, organisations that aren't already online should see this as the final wake-up call. If they don't, more and more of their customers will be online, talking to their competitors. ®

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