The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is offering free dial-up Internet access to its members in partnership with Cobweb, Microsoft, 3Com and Lloyds TSB.
The package is available as a CD-ROM sent out to the FSB's 122,000 members, and includes the software necessary to connect to the Internet, trial copies of FrontPage and Publisher from Microsoft, and a special offer from 3Com for modems. The CD also contains a demo of Lloyds TSB's online banking service for small businesses, which is to be launched next year, a demo of Microsoft's Small Business Server, and material about 3Com's networking products.
The giveaway was brokered by the FSB after its experience setting up its own Web site using Microsoft's FrontPage HTML authoring tool. The FSB approached Microsoft, which then approached Cobweb, a Microsoft Web solutions provider, to provide the free Internet access. 3Com was approached to provide modems, and Lloyds TSB is a long standing partner of the FSB.
Paul Hannam, a director at Cobweb who is also on the FSB's IT committee, explained that FrontPage had worked well for the FSB, prompting the organisation to ask Microsoft to help launch the initiative.
Hannam explained: "The point of free dial-up is to give (small businesses) a helping hand, and (the package) provide a series of stepping stones.
Of course, Cobweb will be getting business from the deal, and Microsoft sees itself selling more copies of FrontPage."
He also stressed that Microsoft, along with 3Com and Lloyds, is only a launch partners; the terms of the deal and the contents of the package might change in the future.
A Microsoft spokeswoman explained the company's involvement in the free deal. "(Small businesses are) one of the hardest markets to market to," she said. Users will get access to FrontPage from the deal, but "once they are on the Internet, they can look at other software".
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