AltaVista to Launch Toll-Free Net Access in U.K.

LONDON (03/06/2000) - AltaVista Co. today announced that it intends to offer free monthly Internet access, including toll-free calls, to U.K. customers.

The service will launch within the next three months, the company said in a statement.

Like many European countries, the U.K. telecommunications system still operates under a metered calling structure, where the customer pays per minute for every call, including local calls. U.K. users currently pay upwards of 126 pounds (US$199) per year in call charges alone to access ISPs (Internet service providers) that are otherwise "free," according to a study -- referred to in the AltaVista statement -- by industry analyst firm Datamonitor PLC.

Many people, ranging from industry executives to politicians in the U.K., have called for lower access rates in the country, claiming metered calling is the main obstacle keeping the U.K. from catching up with the U.S. in e-commerce.

AltaVista declined to give more details on the plan today, although various media reports have stated that AltaVista will charge a 30 pound flat fee as a setup charge for users, and cover the cost of telephone calls through sponsorship, e-commerce and advertising.

AltaVista launched localized versions of its portal in the U.K., Sweden and Germany in December, and last week launched two more in the Netherlands and France. [See "AltaVista Expands in Europe," March 3.]AltaVista, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-617-3400.

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