Newspaper giant The Mirror Group is set to join the crush in setting up a free Internet access service, according to industry sources.
Free Internet access services have proved massively popular. First up was Dixons Group's Freeserve that has attracted around one million members in four months. Both supermarket chain Tesco and Toys R Us have recently launched similar services.
"We can't utterly deny it and we can't say we are," a spokesperson for The Mirror Group told Newswire. "We have various new media plans, but we are not ready to talk yet".
"We are waiting to tie a few things down, but it will definitely be something we'll be jumping up and down about", added the spokesperson.
Analysts believe that The Mirror Group would be making a smart move in launching a free Internet access service. It has around 2.38 million readers a day for the Daily Mirror alone. Other publications in its stable include Sunday People, Sunday Mirror and Racing Post.
According to industry sources The Mirror Group has been in negotiations with content providers for some months. Content is vital to the success of such services, claim analysts.
Free Internet services however, might be short lived. Later this month telecoms regulator Oftel may make it more difficult to offer Internet access without monthly subscriptions.
Oftel has come under pressure from BT to look into the market. At the moment BT only gets around 30 per cent of 0845 call charges - enough to cover costs. The rest goes to Energis which operates Freeserve for the Dixons Group - and compensates for the lack of subscription charges.
According to Oftel these local numbers were set up to help companies create information and service lines and were never intended to be used by ISPs. The 0345/0845 numbers have not been structured to deal with millions of people dialing in and staying online.
Oftel is now looking into how it can solve the problem caused by ISPs exploiting these numbers.
BT is pushing for more money to offset the cost of handling all the Internet service provider calls. If this happens free Internet service providers could find it hard to justify the costs, according to analysts.
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