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AltaVista will launch its much-hyped Net access service in Britain at the end of the month - some three weeks later than scheduled.

The webco is to publish details about the service on Monday, breaking the veil of secrecy and silence that followed in the wake of the service's high-profile announcement in March. The new service will go live on June 30.

It will be based on FRIACO (Flat Rate Internet Access Call Origination) - the new unmetered wholesale product that has effectively ended BT's monopoly as "Internet gatekeeper" in Britain - as long as BT makes it available by then.

The service will be free although punters will be asked to cough up a one-off charge of 51 plus VAT.

A spokeswoman for AltaVista said it would offer a refund if the cost of FRIACO is lower than its published tariff. She said she didn't feel the cost of the service would be more than the published price.

AltaVista says that it knew "several months ago" that FRIACO would be introduced and says it was invited by MCI WorldCom to help lobby Oftel, the winged watchdog.

This is hotly disputed by one industry insider, who claims that AltaVista simply didn't have a clue what was going on.

Indeed, when the service was announced, it had no model, telco or ISP in place to offer such a service. ®

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