Qwest Combines Long-Distance, Free 'Net Access

Qwest Communications International Inc. today announced that it will offer free Internet access to U.S. customers who sign up for a specific long-distance calling plan.

The plan features unlimited dial-up Internet service and 250 minutes of domestic long-distance calling, for the flat rate of US$24.95 per month. Additional interstate calls will be billed at 10 cents per minute, according to a written statement today.

Offering customers free Internet access is becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool among hardware vendors and carriers alike. Last week, Microworkz.com Corp. bundled free Internet access via AT&T Corp. for customers who buy its PCs. The customers have to put up with banner ads that remain visible for as long as users are connected.

Compaq Computer Corp. also recently threw in free Internet access as an option for those purchasing one of its new Presario Internet notebooks. [See "Compaq Cuts Presario 'Net Notebook Prices," Aug. 4.] The offer applies only U.S. customers.

In Europe, companies from Dell Computer Corp. to the U.K. electronics chain Dixons Group are also bundling free 'Net access with their products in some European countries. European consumers, however, still have to pay per-minute phone charges when they connect to the Internet.

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