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Cabler NTL to offer free ‘Net access

Venture challenges others to follow

LONDON — NTL, the U.K.’s No. 1 cabler, plans to offer free unlimited Internet access, unprecedented in the British market and certain to trigger a price war in Britain.

The move throws down the gauntlet to British Telecom, AOL, Freeserve and other U.K. Internet service providers, who are likely to cut if not eliminate their charges, in particular connection charges.

Access via TV

NTL’s ISP, ntlworld, will be available for PC users from April 17, not just to homes in NTL franchises but anyone anywhere in Britain willing to take NTL’s voice telephony. Come mid-May, NTL will offer full Internet access via TV, which the company said will outstrip what is possible with Open, satcaster BSkyB’s e-commerce service.

NTL’s announcement follows prime minister Tony Blair’s call for cheaper Internet access in the U.K., where the expense has inhibited growth. It also steals the thunder of Alta Vista, which announced Monday that in three months it is bringing low cost — but not free — Internet access to Britain.

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