BT hopes to extend the UK's free Internet access phenomenon to the business market following the launch today of a new free Internet service for small businesses.
The service, called BT Access, provides 56Kbps Internet access, 20Mbyte of Web space and 10 email addresses and gives access to BT's Click for Business Web site, which contains many free business resources.
BT hopes customers will like the subscription free service enough to upgrade to its £12 per month BT Connect service. It also hopes the service will attract small businesses that are currently using consumer oriented free ISPs such as Freeserve and its own BT Click+.
"Some small businesses say 'I can get what I want with a consumer company.' We think we've come up with a service that takes businesses away from sites that use sport and entertainment," said Grant Broster, head of BT's Internet Business Services.
With only a third of the UK's small businesses online, BT had to develop something cheap and easy to encourage businesses online, said Broster.
"We had to come in with a free product. We had to support it with business information and we had to provide an upgrade path as their needs grow," he said.
BT Access, which launches on 11 October, provides a 24 hour customer helpline charged at 50 pence per minute.
"There is a degree to which some members may move to the Access service. If they haven't found the Internet's benefits compelling enough yet, then no problems. When they do want to come back we will have the upgrade path to offer," said Broster.
But BT's move is unlikely to change the business ISP market in the same way Freeserve rocked the consumer market, according to consultant Ade Ajibulu, at telecom consultants Analysys.
"I wouldn't have thought it would make a significant impact on the take up of the Internet among small business. One, they already have existing alternatives, with the consumer ISPs," he said.
"Secondly, the cost factor is probably not such an issue for many small businesses getting on the Internet. It's more a case of 'how can the Internet benefit them?'," he added.
However BT was forced to admit that ADSL services would be too expensive for the small business market and BT's own ISP will not offer an ADSL service to small businesses. (see later story)
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