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The Independent Online
NOW THAT Freeserve, the Internet service provider set up by Dixons in September, is planning a pounds 1.5bn market float, free ISPs seem to be coming out of the woodwork.

The latest but one suspects far from the last, is wowstars.com.

It plans to target Freeserve users but, in an unusually sporting gesture, will only begin to so after the float, which is due in late July.

Founder Noel Adams-Tate believes that Internet users will flock to wowstars because it won't be sullied by advertising banners. The company plans to get revenue from acting as a go-between in electronic commerce transactions as well as receiving a cut from telecom network usage fees.

Mr Adams-Tate is planning a pounds 2m advertising campaign from August and is plotting a reverse takeover of an asset rich property company or investment trust "worth at least pounds 30m". He says e-commerce is set to explode in the UK and that wowstars will ride that rocket.

PROFESSOR PATRICK Minford, a former "Wise Man" at the Treasury and a staunch monetarist economist

and Eurosceptic, has just launched a new research institute, which will concentrate on contributing to the debate about the British economy's relationship with Europe.

This sounds a bit like getting Count Dracula to do a study on blood banks. Indeed, Professor Minford is the first to agree that he's "very sceptical on the issue of our joining the euro".

After 21 years at Liverpool University, Professor Minford has upped sticks and moved his research team to the University of Wales, Cardiff, where he has just launched the Julian Hodge Institute for Applied Macroeconomics.

He's obtained funding from Julian Hodge, a banker who lives in Jersey and is highly active in backing Cardiff, despite being well into his nineties.

THE COUPLE of hundred guests who braved a rainstorm to attend the annual Association of Investment Trust Companies (AITC) bash on Tuesday night got more than they had bargained for.

Daniel Godfey, the AITC's youthful chief executive, held the do on a boat, the Silver Sturgeon, moored on the Thames just next to Tower Bridge. The drama of the rainswept conditions was amplified by a gigantic fire in a warehouse on the South bank of the Thames. One AITC operative said the inferno had raged all afternoon, with exploding gas cylinders throwing up "great balls of green fire".

This helped generate a Dunkirk-style spirit amongst the gently steaming guests. Andrew Barker, chairman of AITC, even sounded a somewhat smug note in his introductory remarks, saying that while the Sturgeon was fully covered, he had some sympathy for "Goldman Sachs, who are having a barbecue tonight at Kensington Gardens".

Mr Godrey took up the theme, saying that one of the winners of the AITC's awards for journalists, who was attending Wimbledon that day, would get "a jeroboam of champagne - and a towel"."

Tony Hobman, the chief executive of ProShare, presented prizes to investment companies for the clarity of their reports, and said he hoped that Mr Godfey was not going to say more than 15m words - a reference to the AITC's pounds 15m budget for its generic marketing campaign.

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