AltaVista, the US-owned internet portal which in March beat UK market leader FreeServe to the punch with its ofering of cheap flat-rate internet access, has unveiled plans to extend the concept across Europe later this year.

AltaVista Europe's newly appointed president Pierre Paperon told the Wall Street Journal that its European operations will move into the black by the year end, and that the portal will roll-out its free internet service in France by September - earlier if it seems likely to be overtaken by any rival. "The plan is ready", said Paperon. "Given competition, we may go before." Subscribers would still have to pay per-minute phone charges.

An insider, said to be au fait with AltaVista’s game plan, said that it also has Germany, Spain and Italy fixed in its sights. The strategy is to launch with a free internet access plan then upgrade this to a flat-rate monthly fee inclusive of a proportion of the phone-connection costs. Rivals such as FreeServe offer free Internet access, but users pay the equivalent of local call rates to dial in. AltaVista claims that its flat-rate monthly fee will reduce net-users’ local phone bills.

News source: Wall Street Journal