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MSN is to offer flat-fee Net access in the UK for the first time - although the portal and Net services outfit insists it has no intention of attempting to become a major player in the ISP market.

After all, it abandoned that strategy ages ago and is now only a serious competitor in a handful of countries such as the US and Japan.

Instead, MSN reckons its two new packages will provide a niche service somewhere in between a pay-as-you-go offering and full-on 24/7 unmetered Net access.

Both new services come from BT, which already supplies MSN with its pay-as-you-go service, Freeweb, currently used by around 50,000 people.

When it's launched later this year, the light users package will cost £4.99 for a maximum of ten hours Net access a month. A second package will cost £8.99 and give users 25 hours a month.

If users exceed their monthly limit they will simply be charged 2p a minute on a pay-as-you-go basis.

A spokesman for MSN UK said that the outfit would not be spending any money marketing the service other than advertising it on its own portal.

"We're not getting back into the ISP business," said the spokesman.

"We're not going head to head with AOL or Freeserve."

Which makes you wonder why they're bothering to do this at all. ®

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