American Express to offer members free Net access

InfoWorld |  Networking

AMERICAN EXPRESS IS testing the waters for a full-scale launch of a free ISP for U.S. cardholders.

The service, called "American Express Online," has not been officially announced and is currently available only to PC users in the United States. The service could be made available in Canada and for Apple Computer's Macintosh depending on customer response, according to the company's Web site.

The offer includes free, unlimited Internet access, 24-hour customer service, a Web-based e-mail account, and 5MB of Web space. Cardholders can download the installation program from the AmexOL.net Web site or request a CD from the company. There is a waiting period for the CD version, according to a recorded message on the service's support line, which cites overwhelming response as the reason for the wait.

The service comes as other companies, such as BlueLight.com and AltaVista's 1stUp, have either put limitations on free ISP offerings or shut them down because they do not make money.

"I'm sure American Express will be trying to push users of the service to certain sites and trying to sell 'above-the-fold' advertising to sponsors," said Charles King, senior industry analyst at Zona Research.

Most free ISPs have also been changing their business plans quickly to find a successful version, King added, mentioning Juno Online Services and AT&T.

"Juno is not really trying to get out of the business, but certainly cutting back on what the company offers, and now AT&T has announced their '7/7' plan, which offers unlimited access for $7 per month," King said. AT&T's plan is subsidized by banner ads.

American Express, in New York, could not be reached for comment on how many users had signed up or when an official announcement about the service will be made.

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