Freeserve

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Freeserve.com plc
Type Public company
Industry Internet & Communications
Fate Acquired
Successors EE
previously
Orange UK
Wanadoo
Founded 1998
Headquarters Hemel Hempstead, England, UK
Products Internet service

Freeserve was a British Internet Service Provider, founded in 1998. It was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but merged into the Wanadoo group in 2000, itself a subsidiary of France Telecom. Wanadoo's successor was Orange Home UK whose successor to this day is the telecommunications company EE.

History[edit]

The company was founded in 1998 as project between Dixons Group plc and Leeds-based hosting provider Planet Online to provide free Internet access to customers buying new home PCs from Dixons stores.[1] Initially the concept was called Channel 6 and was between Packard Bell and Planet Online. Packard Bell pulled out and Dixons (who resold their PCs) stepped in as joint partner.

Freeserve was one of the first of the UK's ISPs to dispense with the usual monthly subscription fee for Internet access, and instead to collect a proportion of the standard telephone line charges. (At the time virtually all Internet access in the UK was by dial-up access via BT lines.) Further revenue was obtained from advertisements on Freeserve's homepage, which was set as the default page in the customers' web browsers upon installing the Freeserve connection software. BT sought to challenge Freeserve's business plan by arguing that under the regulatory model (known as Number Translation Services, or NTS), it should receive more money for each call, and in January 1999 Oftel announced that it would carry out a review.[2]

Freeserve floated on the stock market in July 1999 (as Freeserve.com plc), at which point they had approximately 1.5 million subscribers and were valued at between £1.31bn and £1.51bn ($2.02bn and $2.34bn).[3]

Last Freeserve Logo

By September 2000, Freeserve had more than 2 million active subscribers.[4] This was vastly more than the incumbent telephone provider BT, something that was unique for a European ISP.

Freeserve was bought by the France Télécom-owned company Wanadoo in 2000 for £1.65bn ($2.37bn).[5]

They were also among the first UK ISPs to trial the emerging ADSL broadband service in early 2000. The original equipment supplied was a rack-type hard-wired modem and separate router. A year later, the supplied end-user equipment was just a small USB-based modem, the Thomson SpeedTouch 330. Later, as Orange, they supplied a proper wireless ADSL modem router, the Orange-badged Siemens SE572, with just one Ethernet port.

Successive rebrandings[edit]

After being bought by Wanadoo in 2000, Freeserve first had its name changed to Wanadoo UK plc on 28 April 2004.[6] Following a new rebranding exercise in June 2006, Freeserve and Wanadoo UK now formed part of the UK operation of Orange, and are known as Orange Home UK plc. In 2010 Orange UK and T-Mobile UK merged to form EE which is a joint venture between Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom. Orange's broadband service was rebranded as EE Broadband on 30 October 2012.[7]

The Freeserve legacy is still visible in the name of Orange's free web-based email service, fsmail.net, in which fs stands for FreeServe.

Criticism[edit]

In August 2007, Orange started a process to purge unused Freeserve accounts from its system.[8]

Originally Freeserve accounts would be deactivated after 90 days if the dial-up number was not accessed (hence not generating any revenue for Orange). Customers would then receive an error message when trying to access their Freeserve email via another connection, but could reactivate the account before it was deleted by simply visiting the Orange website.

Orange extended the deactivation period to 260 days in 2007 but under the new regime users' accounts and all email are deleted permanently from Orange's servers after a 30-day warning is issued.

References[edit]