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Free PC Program Inundates ISP

New England Internet service provider Empire Net has yet to officially announce their free personal computer program, but that hasn't stopped its customer service lines from being deluged with inquiries about the unique offer.

In a strategic partnership with Connect Plus!, Empire Net is the first ISP to offer a free PC when you sign-up for a three-year service term.

Michael Salvanelli, Connect Plus marketing manager for Connect Plus said there are no hooks to the free PC program.

"Initially, we placed small advertisements in remote New England communities because we expected a big response to the program and we needed to work out the terms for delivery. We wanted to make sure that the credit application and terminal system worked smoothly and we could deliver the systems smoothly," he said.

Salvenelli added that Empire Net had been quietly testing their systems for the past three weeks. Empire Net will officially launch its free PC program this Sunday. The company plans on advertising new distribution points for the program in 18 additional New England markets.

"There's no hook, and there's also nothing new here," Salvenelli said.

Customers seeking to obtain Internet access through the free PC program at Empire Net are required to complete a standard credit application which is reviewed by TRW. Upon approval, Salvenelli said that customers can walk into an Empire Net distribution point, sign up for a 3-year term of essentially unlimited service and walk out with a new PC in under 15-minutes.

"We're simply taking a simple appliance and giving it to you when you sign up for a term of service. Connect Plus is a telecommunications business that has applied the same type of marketing program to our cellular services, so why not apply the same marketing program to Internet access?" Salvenelli said.

Salvenelli added that its free PC program is nothing like the NetZero PC giveaway.

"It's no great gift when you ask customers to provide you with private data and personal information about their tastes, likes, dislikes and children only to intrude on their PC every minute of the day."

As free PC programs for advertising venues and access plans begin to proliferate the IP market, the cascading value of computer hardware will continue. Those companies that can create margin in commodity-like industries will survive because they have created brand or service loyalty.

Empire Net currently offers Internet access to Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Customers pay their $29.95 300-hour access fees on a monthly basis with credit approval.

Connect Plus is a Massachusetts-based information technology service offering telephone services, data processing, data and wireless communications, and wide/local area networking solutions.