World Online goes freeish

Unmetered offering is a step towards always-on high speed Internet DSL service

World Online, the Dutch ISP which burst onto the UK scene in January, launches an unmetered service Monday.

Since coming to the UK with an aggressive marketing strategy and plans to go head to head with the UK's number one ISP Freeserve, World Online has been busy swallowing up UK telcos including Telinco and Localtel and ISPs like strayduck, bun.com and screaming.net.

From Monday all subscribers to the World Online family will be able to take advantage of its unmetered service -- dubbed Freedom 24. For a one-off fee of £20 and a monthly line rental of £14.99 users will be able to get unlimited Internet calls, free access and 10 percent savings on BT telephone calls. The £20 sign up fee is waived for existing World Online subscribers.

The glut of "free" services that have hit the UK since Alta Vista started the ball rolling has altered the Internet market in the same way Freeserve did when it abolished access charges. ISPs like Freeserve were caught unawares by the new breed of online players. Experts point out that most of free or nearly-free offers are short-term gambles on eyeballs for the more expensive broadband access rollout.

World Online CEO Simon Preston is happy to admit broadband is the long term goal of its own cheap Internet plans. "The end-game in the consumer sector is an "always-on" high speed Internet service delivered via DSL technology," he says. "The launch of unmetered access via dial-up 56K modems is a step towards this goal. The market will move on yet again when the local loop is unbundled next year."

And while the ever-increasing empire of World Online spreads, its founder, Nina Brink, has been experiencing problems of her own as shareholders call for her resignation following disclosures that she sold off the majority of her stake in the company ahead of last month's flotation.

World Online shares are currently trading at half the £26 issue price. According to UK managing director, Laurence Alexander, Brink is "remaining firm", for the time being at least.

Free and unmetered internet access has been on the agenda for some time -- right now the battle is on. Go to AnchorDesk UK to get the news comment from Tony Westbrook.

See also ZDNet's guide to Unmetered Access

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