Share-dealing row on the Net

JOHN WILLCOCK

Financial Correspondent

The launch of the first share- dealing service on the Internet was thrown into chaos yesterday when the London Stock Exchange unexpectedly at the last minute said it was withdrawing the provision of real time share prices.

In the event the exchange did provide the information, so that the launch could ahead, and now lawyers are scrambling to establish the legal position of the warring factions.

The two partners in the Internet venture, Electronic Share Information (ESI) of Cambridge and discount broker Sharelink, decided to launch anyway. By yesterday evening over 20,000 "hits" had been registered on the Internet site providing the service, but no figures for actual deals done were available.

Yesterday's shock action by the exchange, which refused to comment, brings to a head several weeks of confrontation with the newcomers over the issue of information security on the Internet.

On 31 August, less than a week before the launch, ESI received a letter from the exchange saying that on 31 October it would withdraw from a previous agreement to provide real time share prices for the new service.

A spokesman for ESI commented last night: "The Stock Exchange has tried to protect its monopolistic self-interests by withdrawing its co-operation. We are exploring every avenue in law to turn this around."

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