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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 21:41 GMT 22:41 UK


Free Net access gets freer is shouting about free access through free calls

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

The high street battle to get customers online has intensified with the Tempo electrical retailer announcing a new free-access, free-calls service and WHSmith finally unveiling its online offering.

Tempo's launches on Thursday with access software being made available on free CD-roms, distributed in the company's 48 retail stores around the UK.

Tempo has linked up with telecoms services company Localtel for the free calls. Surrey-based Localtel buys network time and bandwidth in bulk from BT and offers it at a 10% discounted rate.

Off-peak free Net access users who also choose Localtel for their phone service will be able to make a free call to get online during off-peak hours (6pm-8am weekdays, 6pm Friday to 8am Monday).

The service expects to make money through phone calls made during peak periods and advertising on the portal site which is being created as the home page for users of the service.

Tempo says it will restrict the numbers of CD-Roms distributed initially to prevent the system becoming overloaded and callers getting a busy tone. But it says extra capacity will quickly be added to cope with whatever demand there is for the service.

Localtel customers taking advantage of its existing free Internet access service will be sent CD-Roms.

The portal site will contain news from the Press Association, sports news, a Thomson's directory service and Lycos search engine. Unlimited POP3 mail addresses are promised, 12mb of Web space courtesy of Tripod and free telephone support during the registration process (50p a minute for other technical support).

"This is a dramatic development in the current so-called free Internet access market, and we are confident that it will revolutionise the way that people use the Internet," said Jeremy Stokes, managing director of

WHSmith goes for family value

While Tempo has suddenly emerged to challenge high street rivals such as Dixons' Freeserve, WHSmith's launch has been the subject of speculation in the City for months.

The bookseller says CD-Rom discs, costing 50p, will be available to customers in its branches from Tuesday providing subscription-free Net access, "and offering a living library of educational and entertainment material and a virtual shopping mall of retail services."

It says revenue from the discs will fund its community work in the field of literacy, specifically the Ready Steady Read! scheme developed with the Dyslexia Institute. In addition, every secondary and middle school in England, Scotland and Wales will receive free discs.

WHSmith Online will be family-oriented judging by its features:

  • Ten channels: Education, Home & Family, entertainment, News, Travel, Sport & Leisure, Health & Lifestyle, Internet & PCs, Money & Business and Local Life.
  • Free access to The Hutchinson Family Encyclopedia including National Curriculum guides and links to thousands of educational Websites.
  • Ten retail sites including five WHSmith shopping sites, selling a variety of products including books, CDs, videos, games, magazines and travel..
  • A year's free use of Cyber Patrol - a filtering tool that allows parents to control children's access to Websites.
  • Articles from magazines such as Vogue, Woman's Own, Ideal Home, Good Food, New Scientist, the Economist, NME and FourFourTwo.

Non-members will also have unrestricted access to WHSmith Online through their browsers.

Richard Handover, Group Chief Executive said: "A key part of our future strategy is to build on the strength of the WHSmith brand. The launch of WHSmith Online is an exciting development in that strategy, making our Internet service available to the millions of customers who visit our stores each week and to regular Web users.

"It has a strong focus on education but it is also fun for all the family and is very easy to use."

CUT plans European Internet strike

Despite initiatives such as, consumers are still campaigning for free local calls to be generally available on the US model of a flat-rate fee being paid.

The UK's Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications has announced a Europe-wide Internet strike on June 6. It is co-ordinating action across ten countries: Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

All telephone users in those countries are being encouraged to pull out the plug for 24 hours; Internet users are being asked to lay down their modems.

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