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Free Internet PC Offers Hit French Market

A handful of so-called "free" Internet PC offers have turned up in France in the last month, supplying entry-level multimedia computers to subscribers signing up for pricey long-term Internet- access contracts.

With free unlimited Net access now widely available in France, the three offers hardly qualify as the cheapest way to go online. However, analysts said they may appeal to some people looking to acquire their first Internet-ready computer.

Subscribers to Avenir Telecom's "e-pack Net-Up" receive an IBM Aptiva multimedia PC equipped with an AMD AMD K6-2 400 MHz processor, 4Gb harddisk, and 64Mb of RAM.

The catch is that for 30 months they have to pay FF199 (U.S.$ 33) per month for basic unlimited access. Connection -- via France Telecom France Telecom's standard lines -- is not included. After the contract ends, the computer belongs to Avenir Telecom, according to Aude Morlet, a company spokesperson. Avenir Telecom is distributing the offer through its chain of "Phone Shop" mobile telephone outlets.

Netclic's "FreePack" includes a Cibox PC with a 400 Mhz Intel Celeron processor and 32Mb of RAM. Netclic is a subsidiary of Cibox. FreePack subscribers pay FF168 (U.S. $28) per month for 36 months, after which they can pay a supplement to keep the computer. They are also obligated to click on five banners per month and make at least FF600 (U.S. $98) in yearly purchases from Netclic's portal store. If you don't want to buy online, you can click on 15 banners instead of five.

FreePack includes 10 hours of access per month, including communication via Netclic's own network. Netclic's site does not specify how much access and communication cost after the 10 hours are used up.

Infonie Infonie Pack offers four choices of Alphamedia Alphamedia computers, incrementally increasing in price based on specifications. The basic multimedia model, with an AMD K6-2 400 Mhz processor and 32 Mbs of RAM, priced at FF3,990 (U.S. $654), is covered by the "welcome bonus" the subscriber gets for signing up. The customer can kick in another FF4,990 (U.S. $818) to bump up to a Intel Intel-Pentium III 500 Mhz model.

The Infonie Pack subscription ranges from FF169-229 (U.S.$ 28 to $37.5) per month for 36 months, depending on whether you choose the 10-hour and 20-hour or plan, and includes communication over Infonie's own network. Access is unlimited. However, when the plan hours are used up, additional communication costs about FF14 (U.S. $2.30) per hour, said Marianne Le Tallec, an Infonie spokesperson.

This is comparable to France Telecom's daytime local call rate, but three and a half times FT's Primaliste Internet rate, available from 10pm to 8am via telephone but not to Infonie Pack subscribers.

Infonie's is the only offer that allows the customer to keep the computer after completing the contract. It is also the only one with an escape route, specifying pro-rated amounts he/she would have to reimburse to Infonie to get out of the contract.



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