Net Gains: Virgin territory - www.virgin.net

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The Independent Culture
Our article on free Internet access two weeks ago prompted a number of emails. Most of them were heavily in favour of the removal of fees, pointing out how free email access has suddenly changed the on-line landscape of Britain. Apparently, there has been an enormous surge in email and Internet usage since Dixons first launched their freeserve service late last summer which in turn puts an increasing amount of strain on the telecommunications infrastructure. Since then, of course, Richard Branson's Virgin Net has announced that its service will also become free from the beginning of next month. Signing up to Virgin's new service is reasonably easy; once you have registered, which you can do on-line, the company plans to send out the appropriate software at the end of this month. The good news is that both Mac and PC-users are catered for here.

Few people, however, have pointed out the dangerous short-termism of this new direction for Internet access. The pace that the Internet is growing at requires an enormous amount of investment at every level. Sheer common sense says that Internet access can't be free for ever so who is paying for its growth? If any service providers or their agents can provide some kind of rationale, we'd love to hear from you.

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