The BBC today followed a legion of other big brand names into the free Internet access arena, with the launch of Freebeeb.net, a service it is offering in conjunction with Scottish Telecom.
Like its legions of competitors, Freebeeb.net will derive the bulk of its revenue from shared call charges and a high priced support service. It expects to turn a profit within two years.
Rupert Gavin, BBC worldwide chief executive, acknowledged that there were many competitors already operating in the free ISP space, but said the market was a fast growing one and the BBC was extremely well known as a content provider.
According to the BBC's research, only 4.5 million of the country's nine million computer users are linked to the Internet.
Up to 10 million more users are expected to go online in the next eight years and the BBC believes it can easily attract a subscriber base "in the low hundreds of thousands" within three years.
Revenue generated by the service, which forms part of the BBC's commercial arm BBC Worldwide, will be returned to BBC coffers and used to fund its general broadcasting services.
Gavin would not reveal how much money the BBC expected Freebeeb to generate but said it had no plans to float the service, as Dixons recently did with its Freeserve service.
Freebeeb subscribers will receive 20Mbytes of Web space and unlimited addresses for the POP3 based email service.
The BBC has allocated marketing budget of several million pounds for the service, which will be promoted via BBC magazines, videos and events.
Installation disks will be distributed by the T&S chain of convenience stores and newsagents, Dillons bookstores, One Stop, Paper Chain, Gibbs, Supercigs and 1,500 selected Post Offices for a limited time.
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