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AltaVista Ends Free Internet Ride

Subscribers to AltaVista's free Internet service will need to search for a new provider after an email by the company Tuesday announced the program's dissolution.

The search engine is terminating its free service Dec. 10 because its dial up connectivity provider, 1stUp.com, is going out of business, the email reads.

Ken Neibaur, Alta Vista vice president of marketing, wrote in an email obtained by internetnews.com:

"We regret to inform you that AltaVista's free Internet access will terminate service on December 10th. AltaVista has been forced to discontinue this offering because the company who provided the service and telecommunications infrastructure for it, 1stUp Corp., is going out of business.

AltaVista thoroughly investigated finding another supplier to provide a free Internet access service. However, we were unable to find a company that was able to meet the needs of our Members."

Finding a company that provides free Internet service has gotten a lot harder these days.

BlueLight.com bought Spinway Monday, a deal that effectively shut the door on companies looking for a provider that hides its free service under a company's offering,. NetZero, the largest free ISP in the nation and the only other free nationwide ISP, doesn't co-brand its service.

This dearth in providers prompted Alta Vista to look elsewhere.

The portal company was quick to pen an agreement with the Microsoft Network, giving displaced customers the option of three free months of dial up access or a free modem and installation as part of MSN's HighSpeed DSL service with a one-year contract.

AltaVista joins a list of companies left with a group of subscribers and no free Internet provider. Lycos, Excite and Ameritrade are now looking at options after 1stUp.com's departure. The three 1stUp.com affiliates were unavailable for comment.

CMGI, which owns both 1stUp.com and AltaVista, has been under financial pressure to increase profitability after last year's buying binge produced no profits. Since January, CMGI stock has plummeted 92 percent.

The company decided to discontinue 1stUp.com's funding last month. If another buyers hasn't been found by the end of December, the company will be forced to go out of business.

So far, no one has come forth to buy the free ISP, and none is likely. Spinway was the only legitimate buyer, since NetZero operates its free service under a different model than 1stUp.com. Portal company Excite, partnered closely with 1stUp.com through its FreeLane program, is also a likely candidate, although officials declined to speculate.