Fast Packets

U.K. continues free ‘net access push

After months of insisting it wouldn’t join the many other retailers and telcos in the United Kingdom giving Internet access service away for free, Virgin Net announced recently that its customers will no longer pay a monthly fee.

Virgin Net will scrap the monthly fee of 11.99 pounds ($30) it charges its 150,000 subscribers on April 1, it said in a statement. Over the next year, beginning in May, it will slowly open the service up to others, said Lisa Francis, PR manager for the ISP. Customers will still pay the local call rate, which ranges from one penny to four pence per minute, for the telephone usage.

The move comes just weeks after Dixons Group PLC announced that its Freeserve ISP counted more than one million members, while British Telecommunications PLC and others eliminated fees (“BT joins free Internet rush,” NWC, Feb. 26, 1999, page 3).

The service will limit its growth to prevent the network from becoming overloaded if too many people sign up for the service, Francis said. “We are aiming for a million by the end of the year. We don’t want to mushroom too fast.” Current customers have been asking the service not to eliminate charges amid concerns that the quality will suffer, she said.

Virgin Group, headed by flamboyant entrepreneur Richard Branson, also announced that it would invest 50 million pounds to develop an electronic-commerce empire involving many Virgin brands such as Virgin Atlantic airline, Virgin Bride apparel shops, Virgin music stores and Virgin Direct financial services.

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