Report Shows Free Access Fuels Growth In UK

A new management report from UK research company Fletcher Research shows that free access is fuelling the growth of the Internet in the UK.

In a biannual poll of 40,000 UK Internet users, Fletcher Research found that two-thirds of home users no longer pay for access. At the current rate of growth, 12.5 million adults will be online by the end of 1999, rising to 20 million by 2003. Of these, there will 7 million home users online by the end of 1999, rising to 13.3 million by 2003.

“In just nine months, the Internet access industry has been revolutionised by the advent of subscription-free providers,” said Neil Bradford, a director of Fletcher Research.

“Freeserve’s compelling proposition and aggressive development has built a powerful online brand with a formidable lead in the UK Internet access market. We do not expect any other brand to be able to match, let alone overtake, Freeserve’s progress, unless a new business model for delivering access arrives, such as offering free phone calls or free PCs.”

In May, 31 percent of home Internet users in the UK were reported to have an active Freeserve account. However, users appear to be more fickle, with the average user having 1.3 active accounts. This figure may indicate that the previously strong relationship between users and a single ISP has broken down.

Other key findings of the survey are that Internet access via TV, mobile phone and other devices will complement rather than replace PC Internet access, and that home Internet users value price most of all. An estimated 43 percent of home Internet users said that price was one of the main reasons for choosing their current ISP.

Following Freeserve, BT Click Free came second in the survey with 14 percent of users, with AOL UK third at 9 percent. BT Internet, CompuServe and Virgin all scored 7 percent, while TescoNet (free) and Demon Internet (still “a tenner a month”) came in at 5 percent. MSN (free as of this month) stood at 4 percent.

AOL Europe Monday said that the company is reconsidering its stand on service charges, and may introduce a free ISP model as early as next month, according to a Reuters report.

AOL recently supported the June 6 pan-European strike demanding lower phone fees.

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