Dell offers free Net access in Europe –

Dell Computer Corp. yesterday said it will offer free Internet access across Europe.

Dell has already launched its new service, which it calls DellNet, in the U.K., and will launch the service in the next month in France and Germany. The U.S.-based computer manufacturer also plans to offer DellNet in other European countries, according to a company statement.

"Free" Internet access has become an increasingly popular way to draw new users online in the U.K., and other countries such as Denmark and France have begun to follow. Dell is the first major computer manufacturer to get into the act, however. Users pay no monthly charge for access, but still need to pay for local metered phone charges while online.

Net usage rates have increased in the U.K. with the numerous free Internet offers, but metered charges for local phone usage still keep many Europeans from going online or staying online for a long time. For example, the average user of the Internet service provider American Online Inc. in the U.S. stays on line for 55 minutes per day, compared with only 17 minutes per day in Europe, AOL Europe head Andreas Schmidt said last week. Schmidt said that metered phone calls remain the No. 1 barrier to making the Internet a mass medium in Europe.

Internet users in Europe are not taking these charges sitting down, however. On Sunday, Internet associations in 13 European countries called for a boycott of all telecommunications activities, in an attempt to encourage what they say are fairer charges for Internet access.

To offer the service, Dell has partnered with British Telecommunications PLC (BT) and Excite. BT is providing the access software and its network, while Excite is contributing both its search engine and content from its portals.

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