Free web access for life as Breathe and LineOne enter race

LONDON – UK Internet firms, Breathe and LineOne, have joined the race to offer consumers free unmetered access to the web.

The internet access market was ignited last week by announcements from AltaVista and NTL.

Breathe is promising internet connection for life for a one-off fee of £50. LineOne, the BT and United News & Media company, is offering similar deal with a £20 one-off fee, but consumers must then commit to a minimum of £5 of a month of voice calls.

The Breathe service will at first make limited impact on the market as it is restricted to 50,000 existing Breathe users. It says its initiative is designed to ensure it retains the level of service that prompted Internet Magazine to vote it Best Free ISP in the UK for 1999.

However, it is more likely that it is concerned that the service would be swamped and come to a crashing halt. Likewise, AltaVista has restricted its service, but to 500,000 rather than 50,000.

The offers of completely free internet access hit Freeserve shares badly. They have dropped from recent highs to 565p. Freeserve makes most of its money from taking a cut of the telephone call charges.

Ask Jeeves considers rapid flotation.

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