RealTime IT News

Two Free ISPs Launch in Japan

Two free, advertising-based Internet service providers (ISPs) have begun signing up subscribers in Japan.

Since October 29, livedoor has been taking applications for a free Internet access service that it will launch in Japan later this month.

Instead of charging dial-up users for their online access, this wholly owned subsidiary of the US-based livedoor Group will generate revenues from onscreen advertisements. Livedoor said it selected Japan as the first in its planned global network of services because it foresees particularly strong demand here for free Internet access.

The first-day rush of applicants exceeded the site's server capacity, temporarily halting registration until a more powerful server could be brought online. Persons wishing to connect to the Internet through livedoor's free service must fill out a personal profile questionnaire, which the company will use to target ads, and download specially designed client software.

The software, which livedoor has licensed from UK-based free ISP The X-Stream Network, does not interfere with normal online operations such as use of a Web browser or e-mail software.

Access to livedoor will initially be limited to the 03 (Tokyo) telephone area code, although the company plans to eventually open access points in other areas.

While livedoor will restrict the initial phase of service to 50,000 subscribers, president Yoshiaki Sakitou said the company's goals are "to sign 1 million members by the end of next year, and to reach profitability within three years."

Advertising will account for the bulk of the livedoor's income at the start, Sakitou said, but commission fees from a planned shopping and financial services e-marketplace will eventually surpass ad revenues.

Getting a jump on livedoor in terms of service launch, ASCII and CSK Network Systems (CSK-Net) last week jointly began offering their own ad-supported, free Internet access service. However, membership in the ASCII and CSK-Net shes.net service, which started on November 4, is open only to women.

"Up to now, the Internet has been dominated by men," said the partners. "Through this service, we are seeking to offer a fresh perspective by providing information of interest to women, and thereby develop new business potentials by encouraging more women to make use of the Internet."

Personal data about hobbies and tastes gathered from the female applicants during registration will be used for online advertising and direct mailings targeted to their individual tastes and interests.

Initially, shes.net will provide free Internet connectivity from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. through 28 access points around the country. The partners plan to eventually add more access points and make the service available around the clock.

CSK-Net and ASCII said they expect more than 100,000 women to sign up for shes.net by spring, and anticipate having 2 million subscribers within three years.

The companies acknowledge that some men may pretend to be women in order to gain free Internet access, thereby degrading the quality of shes.net's statistical data and reducing the response rate to its advertising,

However, CSK-Net President Akira Mochizuki said he is confident that "considering the total membership, the effect [of men pretending to be women] will be slight."

Mochizuki added that, other than by sending a service ID and password through the mail to confirm each applicant's name and address, there are no plans to check on the sex of the service's subscribers.