In an effort to accelerate use of its Web-based package shipping services, United Parcel Service announced Monday that it would provide its 1.7 million customers with free Internet access.
The shipping giant said the service will be offered in partnership with Microsoft, through the use of its Internet browser, and AT&T, which will provide the dial-up connections.
The goal, said Steve Torbett, electronic commerce marketing director at United Parcel Service, is to get more people ordering and paying for deliveries online, and to migrate users of UPS' older shipping platforms onto the Web.
"The majority of our customers do have Internet access, but not necessarily the people who are in charge of handling shipping or tracking packages," Torbett said.
"We want to make sure all of our customers have access to the functionality we've built into our Web offerings."
The service was unveiled at Fall Internet World in New York Monday, and will be offered to beta customers until the end of the year. A commercial rollout is scheduled for the first quarter of 2000.
It does not give customers general access to the Internet. Instead, Torbett said customers are "fenced" in so they only have access to UPS Web sites.
Sally Davenport, a spokeswoman for FedEx, said that company has no plans at the moment to launch a competing free Internet access offering.
"That's something that hasn't even come up on our radar screen as something customers want," she said. "[Internet] access for companies large and small is practically ubiquitous now."