WH Smith launches net service

WH SMITH has become the latest company to join the ranks of free Internet access providers with the launch of WHSmith Online, writes Nigel Cope.

The service, which goes live today, aims to capitalise on Smith's educational heritage by including free access to the Hutchinson family encyclopedia and National Curriculum guides as well as revision and homework tips for students.

But Smith's has put itself at a commercial disadvantage to rivals by charging 50p for the CD-Roms which will be available from its stores. Although this is the same as Tesco charges for its Internet access discs, Dixons Freeserve software is free. Smith's plans to donate the 50p fee to educational charities.

WHSmith Online will also offer 10 retail sites selling books, CDs and videos. A news service offers features from magazines such as Vogue and The Economist.

There is also a year's free use of Cyber Patrol, a filtering tool that enables children's Internet access to be supervised.

Smith's shares soared 38p to 778.5p on the launch.