Altavista has become the first major Web search engine provider to offer free US Internet access and officials said it was also considering bringing the service to Europe.
The move follows Microsoft’s statement last week that it was considering providing low cost or even free Internet access as part of its plan to win market share from the leader in the US online services market, America Online (AOL) .
Altavista’s service is available for free download from its Web site and access is provided by US Internet Service Provider (ISP), 1stup. An Altavista spokesperson said the company may also use other ISPs in the future.
He explained: "Altavista is the first leading Internet brand to offer users free online access. This service is available in the US and there are no immediate plans to offer it in Europe, but we are considering it."
Users of the Altavista service will be provided with a microportal to enable them to navigate the Web through a small browser that remains open as a separate desktop window. The microportal offers links to Altavista's search facility and to content such as news and sports information.
Rod Schrock, Altavista’s president and chief executive, said: "A totally free Internet service takes on significant importance when quality is the underlying proposition. Only Altavista is delivering a totally free Internet experience that fulfills the expectations and high standards of Web enthusiasts. Why continue to pay $240 per year or more when a totally free service easily meets your needs?"
Free Internet access is big business in the UK and Europe where, unlike the US, users are required to pay for local calls. The trend now looks set to travel across the Atlantic as Internet companies fight to lure customers away from AOL.
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