Freeserve expects 100,000 subscribers for high-speed Net

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The Independent Online

Freeserve, Britain's biggest internet service provider, expects to sign up more than 100,000 high-speed internet access customers in the 12 months following the launch of its new broadband services next Monday.

Freeserve, Britain's biggest internet service provider, expects to sign up more than 100,000 high-speed internet access customers in the 12 months following the launch of its new broadband services next Monday.

Peter Cowley, head of broadband for the ISP, said: "We're looking at the price coming down before we get into the millions [of customers]." He was speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, held over the weekend.

The new broadband services - known as ADSL - will offer internet access at speeds of around 500 kilobits per second, about 10 times faster than current dial-up access. The ADSL offer, to be called Freeserve Plus, will be carried over British Telecom's network. Freeserve will buy this service from Ignite, BT's wholesale internet division.

Freeserve Plus will debut at £40 per month. "To our minds that's an expensive price," Mr Cowley said. "We hope to get to £30 per month in 2001 and eventually below £20."

Mr Cowley said Freeserve may take up to four years to shift its near 2 million narrowband internet access customers to broadband. Openworld, BT's residential internet subsidiary, will offer its own branded ADSL service.

"I think ADSL is going to be the dominant high-speed platform," Mr Cowley said. "BT, although they are slow in big company, I think will surprise with how quickly ADSL is rolled out to local exchanges across the country."

BT has come in for criticism for its delayed launch of ADSL. It will initially activate local exchanges covering over 6 million homes in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and five other cities. Around 80 per cent of the country will be covered in 18 months.

Telewest last February launched its Blue Yonder high-speed internet access service using cable modems. NTL expects to launch its own cable modem service later this year.

Mr Cowley downplayed concerns that Openworld would have an advantage in winning ADSL customers. "They are in exactly the same position as us. Because BT's wholesale business is so heavily regulated Freeserve and AOL can compete with Openworld on equal terms."

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