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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Bad start for internet bench
Neil Woodman (left) and Dan Sanderson
The teenagers took advantage of the free service
Two teenagers discovered the world's first internet bench could be used to make free international telephone calls.

The cyber-seat, which is based in a public park in Suffolk, UK, went online on Monday.

Neil Woodman and Dan Sanderson, both 17, took a normal telephone handset along to the bench, which was created by Microsoft's MSN service in partnership with the local council.

The pair cheekily phoned St Edmondsbury Council to warn them of the problem and then tried to call Microsoft boss, Bill Gates.

We thought we would try and get hold of Bill Gates and say 'we are calling you from your bench'

Neil Woodman
It was an embarrassing oversight for the high-profile project, which has already been vandalised.

The bench, which is free to use during the three-month pilot period, allows up to four people to log on to the web at the same time. Users simply plug their laptop into the modem sockets concealed in the inside arms of the bench, power up, and go online.

Engineers have now blocked all long-distance phone calls but not before the two teenagers had their fun.

St Edmondsbury Mayor, Councillor Brian Bagnall
The town's mayor was the first online
Mr Woodman said: "They should have anticipated this type of thing and put some safeguards in place.

"We called some general numbers, then thought we would call the council and let them know there was a breach and tell them we were calling from the bench. It was quite ironic.

"We thought we would try to get hold of Bill Gates and say 'we are calling you from your bench', but we could only get as far as speaking to his secretary."

A spokesman for MSN said: "It's all good fun and we are not too upset about what they have done. All credit to them."

He said mobile phone, national and international calls from the bench should have been barred the day it was launched, but there had been a problem.

Park Patrols

In a separate incident, the bench was the subject of vandalism when someone tried to block one of the modem plugs.

Ann Clarke, a council spokeswoman, said: "We spotted the problem with the modem socket almost immediately.

"Someone had tried to block it up but it was easy to fix. It's a shame a few people have tried to spoil it for others.

"We have regular patrols keeping an eye on the bench now and the gardens are locked up at night to prevent it happening again."

Mrs Clarke said the bench was a subject of fascination across the world with TV crews from Japan and Korea just a sample of the intense media interest.

"We've got lots of people coming just to sit on the bench and have their photos taken with it.

"And some people are actually bringing their laptops and using it properly."

See also:

06 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Park bench goes online
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