Virgin joins race to offer ‘free’ Net access service

Virgin has joined the race – started this week by search engine AltaVista – to be the first company to offer unmetered, unlimited Internet access by announcing it is to trial a “free” service.

Richard Branson’s group of companies is to test an unmetered service, to be offered through the Virgin.net service provider from April. It plans to have the service running by the summer.

Virgin has yet to decide whether the service will work on a subscription model – by charging customers a monthly fee – or through some other means. AltaVista’s model, revealed this week, involves charging just &£10 per year, but includes an initial &£30 to &£50 joining fee for unlimited Net access.

A Virgin spokesman says: “We have been looking at offering our own unmetered service for some time, and the trial is due to launch next month. In light of AltaVista’s announcement, we have decided to inform people of the launch. We will be working on the details and expect to announce them in the next four weeks.”

Virgin hopes to launch its own service before AltaVista’s is released in June. Since AltaVista’s announcement, cable company NTL and 4uNet have also announced unmetered services. Meanwhile, AOL and Freeserve, the two biggest UK providers, have indicated they will launch unmetered services in the next few months.

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