A free lunch for Britain's surfers

By Duncan Graham-Rowe PERHAPS you can get something for nothing after all. What claims to be the world’s first entirely free Internet service was launched this week in Britain. Net surfers in the US are used to getting their local telephone connections free, but have to pay separate fees to their Internet service provider. Meanwhile, free ISPs have proliferated in Britain, where the telephone calls needed to access the Net have always been charged at local rates. The new service, CallNet 0800, makes no connection charges at all. It is available over existing telephone lines—customers simply dial a three-digit prefix to obtain a free connection. Company spokesman Chris Klopper says that CallNet 0800 expects to make money from online advertising and tempting customers to use its service for voice calls—which will be charged. The service is backed by a consortium including the Canadian telecoms firm North American Gateway. Some British ISPs have supplemented their revenue by charging at premium rates for their technical helplines. However, CallNet 0800 isn’t planning to do this. Tim Pearson, chair of the Internet Service Providers Association in London, says the acid test will be whether CallNet 0800 is able to earn enough revenue to maintain an acceptably high quality of service. “It very much depends upon how much they are willing to invest,
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