Dutch internet company World Online continued its rampage into the UK net service provider market today with the acquisition of Localtel - operator of the UK's first free internet service, screaming.net.
The move comes just days after the company bought News International's ISP, bun.com. In January World Online bought Telinco, the telecoms reseller that operated bun.com.
Screaming.net launched unmetered off-peak internet access last April, but there were several delays for customers transferring to the service and the service was slow once connected. Telecoms regulator Oftel later blamed BT for much of the delay.
World Online said today it is in no hurry to kill off the screaming.net brand, despite the ISP's damaged reputation.
"Localtel and screaming.net had a very difficult start in life. BT could not cope with the number of customers who wanted to take it," Simon Preston, chief executive of World Online, told vnunet.com.
"Over a period of two years, you will see a consolidation under the World Online brand," he added.
The Dutch company picks up a further 180,000 internet users through the deal, in addition to the 450,000 it acquired from the bun.com acquisition and the estimated 400,000 Telinco users. In revenue terms, the company claims to be well ahead of UK internet giant Freeserve.
"Today we have a very substantial business with annual revenue of £70m - more than Freeserve and almost certainly losing less money," said Preston.
Telinco and Localtel customers will continue paying their existing tariffs for now. Integration of the tariffs across all World Online's UK consumer business will take place over the next few months, according to Preston.
Localtel and Telinco were both pioneers of unmetered internet access in the UK. NTL this week said that from May it will offer unmetered access all day, every day, providing customers spend £10 a month on voice.
World Online is planning to launch special tariffs, but Preston would not confirm whether customers would see their unmetered access hours extended beyond evenings and weekends. "It's a pretty marginal difference. When do most people access the internet?" he said.
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