techTrader: World CallNet's background of oil, telly

The company, which plans to introduce completely free Internet access Monday has a few different businesses and unexpectedly oily origins

World CallNet ( ) has two main lines of business: a free ISP and a TV-based Net access system. The company, which is incorporated in the US, but based in London has a pretty complicated history, including an acquisition and a name change in the last year.

The company was formed out of a UK company called World Wide Communication Holdings, after its acquisition last October by an American firm, General American Royalty. At that time World Wide (as it was then known) was already engaged in designing technology for TV-based Net access and in operating CallNet ( ), its Internet service provider.

General American Royalty, on the other hand, had until only recently -- July 1998 -- been involved primarily in the acquisition of royalty interests in oil and gas wells. Evidently the company decided the Net and telecoms was a higher-growth sector. Curiously, this followed a parallel move by US-based Zapata, a former oil-drilling and fish-oil-processing interest founded by American president George Bush. Zapata decided to become an Internet portal and founded, after buying up scores of low-profile Web content sites.

Early this year, General American Royalty changed its name to World CallNet and changed its stock-ticker symbol to WOWW. World CallNet's interests are now in Europe and Australia, but the shares are still traded on the US' Nasdaq over-the-counter (OTC) bulletin board. At the time, Paul Goodman-Simpson, President and CEO of World CallNet, stated: "The change of symbol name to WOWW more accurately reflects the fact that we are an internet company. The WOWW symbol name also captures the sense of excitement that surrounds the technology sector, in general, and our prospects in particular."

Last month World CallNet acquired the remaining shares of the CallNet ISP through an exchange of 2.5 million WOWW shares, turning it into a fully-owned subsidiary. At the time WOWW was worth about $2 (£1.20), valuing the deal at about $5m, (£3m). CallNet, launched as a free ISP in December, had acquired about 135,000 customers by the end of September. Besides its own service the ISP operates services for 30 of the UK's estimated 100 free ISPs, including those for five football clubs and a newspaper. CallNet uses Cable & Wireless for its telecom services.

World CallNet also designs and licenses a technology for TV-based access to e-mail and chat services. Called MailTV ( ), the system is being built into some televisions in Europe and is set for an official rollout early next year, beginning in Australia.

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