Free DSL no April Fools' joke

Broadband Digital Group says it aims to roll out free broadband access to consumers on April 1 -- but question marks remain over deployment issues

AltaVista Free Access, NetZero, Tritum Network and a host of others are offering free Internet access. With so many ISPs offering free 56K-modem Internet access, can it be much of a surprise that Broadband Digital Group wasn't far behind in launching FreeDSL, the first free broadband consumer Internet-access service? Broadband Digital Group (BDG) opened its virtual doors on Monday for potential customers to register for free DSL services. These free high-speed connections will, in theory, be available on April 1 -- not the most fortunate of date choices for such a chancy enterprise.

The new Orange, California-based firm isn't yet answering such practical questions as to where these services will be available and exactly what kind of DSL services will be provided. Indeed, a source close to the company said that no decision has been made on even where the initial rollout would take place. The company will be asking its potential customers its own demographic and geographic questions. If consumers are accepted for the service, they will then be asked more detailed questions. The resulting information will enable BDG to provide targeted data for potential advertisers.

What the company will provide in return for the short run is the FreeDSL Browser Assistant window, a free POP3 email account, a free high-speed FreeDSL modem, a free copy of the Winfire Browser Assistant and "first access to future broadband services."

How will FreeDSL be deployed, given the high demand for DSL equipment and the limited availability of telephone central-office space? Clear question. But the answers are all rather foggy.

The company is trying to partner with several other companies to answer practical deployment questions. At this time, however, only Winfire, an independent software vendor that's also partly owned by BDG's founders, is a known partner. Bell-Atlantic and Pacific Bell, meanwhile, have been mentioned as potential partners. The business plan is clear enough, though. FreeDSL will rely on advertising and broadband Net applications, such as video-on-demand and online gaming, for the short term. For now, the company has $3m (£2m) in initial funding from IMI IV, an Orange County venture fund. In the long run, one telecomm analyst speculated that FreeDSL's exit strategy is to gain enough market share to make it an attractive takeover target.

FreeDSL is the latest brainchild of Internet entrepreneur Ryan Steelberg, former co-founder of successful online advertising enterprises AdForce and AdSmart. Steelberg has a successful record at highly targeted advertising business models.

Take me to the ADSL Special

See techTrader for more technology investment news, plus quotes and research.