RealTime IT News

Spaniards Get Free Net Access

In their ongoing fight for new customers, Spain's telephone operators have launched a wave of free Internet access offers.

Hailed as a major boost that will bring millions of Spaniards online by year's end, the strategy is also decried as the death knell for the country's smaller ISPs.

The new Retevision telephone operator jolted the Spanish online market earlier this month when it announced it would be offering all of its clients free Net access by way of Canal 21, the ISP run by its Basque partner Euskaltel.

By signing up with the operator, clients were promised free Net access for the duration of their contracts.

The company hoped to reap 1.4 million new users -- ten times the number of clients who currently subscribe to its Iddeo online service, made up of two ex-ISPs, Servicom and RedesTB.

"This will mean the Internet's definitive take-off in Spain," said a Retevision spokesman.

Uni2 soon followed with a more competitive offer: free access to anyone, regardless of their phone company of choice. Within days, Airtel, Jazztel, British Telecom and other companies had all found a way to compete with the telecommunications giant, Telefónica, S.A.

The former state monopoly was quick to respond with what it called "a free Internet access offer with a level of quality and speed superior to all other offers announced."

By means of its Teleline online service, Telefónica Interactiva offered unlimited Net access, a free e-mail account, a 5MB homepage, and 24-hour technical support. Unlike some other offers, Telefónica's offer went into effect immediately and would reportedly be permanent.

According to the company, which currently has 110,000 residential online clients, "Telefónica Interactiva has been working for several months on this free offer."

In response to what could mean the demise of many of Spain's close to 600 independent ISPs, a wide array of providers attack the telephone company offers with more or less the same reasoning: free access is no guarantee of quality.

According to Noticias Intercom, the recent free access craze could boost Spanish Net use from 1.98 million users today to 7 million by late 1999. This would put Spain on par with more wired European neighbors like Germany, with 7.14 million and the UK, with 8.1 million users, respectively.

Despite waving the Net access charges, telephone companies charge users for the cost of a local call, and thus for online time.

Spain's free Internet offers come on the tail of offers like that Britain's Freeserve, which gleaned 1.5 million clients in a question of months.