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Cable giant NTL is a "serious contender" to buy Freeserve, Britain's biggest consumer ISP, according to the Sunday Times.

The "impending auction could value Freeserve at a big premium to its 3.9 billion market worth", the paper says.

Remember, nothing regarding the ISP's future status has been announced – officially – by Freeserve, or by Dixons, its majority owner. But the signals are clear enough, with chief executive John Pluthero mulling aloud at a conference in Barcelona a couple of weeks back, whether (I'm paraphrasing here) the company had enough scale to "achieve the things we want to do".

To date, T-Online, Europe's biggest ISP, has been regarded as the likeliest new owner of Freeserve. This would give it a commanding position in two out of the big three European economies in Europe (it also has a useful market share in France).

Terra Networks has also been named as a potential buyer, but any intention would be well and truly scuppered by last week's news of the agreed takeover of Lycos. Terra will have its hands full for months.

NTL is an intriguing possibility. The company is the dominant cable player in Britain, with more than two million consumer customers. A tie-in between NTL and Freeserve, would give Dixons, Britain's biggest electrical goods retailer, access to consumer shopping channels. ®

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