Microsoft denies free access reports

Microsoft Corp. backed off reports that the company was planning to offer low-cost or even free Internet access as a way to compete with America Online Inc.

Spokespeople for the company stressed today that "Microsoft has no new announced strategies" regarding Internet service, but that the company continues to "look at several options."

"We continue to believe that accessing the Internet can be faster, easier and simpler for consumers," said the spokesperson, who did not want to be named.

Published reports on Thursday implied that Microsoft would be willing to lower the price of its direct-dial Internet service -- or even eliminate fees -- in order to stick it to AOL. The two companies have a history of tension between them, and have lately been squabbling over the emerging field of instant messaging.

Microsoft was already one of the glut of access providers offering rebates on PCs to consumers who signed up for long-term contract.

Company spokespeople would not say whether Microsoft has any plans to expand that offering.

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