‘Virtual’ ISPs to boost Internet

The rush by brands to launch their own free Internet access services received another boost last week, as rivals World CallNet and the BT/Excite alliance extended their schemes to support these services.

The rise of the free virtual Internet service provider (VISP) may well provide the next easy route for brands to establish a heavyweight presence on the Web. But it will be at the cost of allowing telecoms companies to leverage jealously guarded brand appeal to generate local call revenues, and at the cost of the charges levied on brand owners to set up and maintain the service.

Sniff Out (www.sniffout.net) is the latest in a wave of free service providers. Launched last week, it is a travel and entertainment information service, offering free Internet access through a deal with World CallNet.

The site features RAC road reports, Railtrack timetables, classified advertisements from Friday Ad, stock market prices, television listings and daily horoscope readings from astrologist Russell Grant.

According to CallNet sales manager Richard Dormans: “Providing visitors with free access is the sort of added-value feature that will make the difference between success and failure for many sites.”

Meanwhile, Excite last week launched Excite Partner Portal (EPP), offering companies the chance to co-brand a free ISP service using Excite’s content delivery and personalisation technology, and BT ClickFree telecoms support.

In return for helping generate traffic for Excite and BT, the co-branded product allows the brand partner to benefit from the prestige of offering customers free Internet access and get a cut of the exploitation opportunities that result from securing online traffic. The Excite-backed service also allows brand partners to promote their own products, special offers and news.

Excite UK general manager Evan Rudowski says: “EPP is an effective way for our partners to maintain an continuing dialogue with their customers. With these content-rich portals users are encouraged to personalise and return often, as opposed to the flat ‘brochureware’ sites to which users rarely return.”

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