The Virgin Group has become the latest business to offer users free operations across group. Net access and to create a portal site to sell its products and services.
Richard Branson, head of the Virgin empire, revealed that the company was investing #50 million to ensure that virtually every part of the group - ranging from the largest division Virgin Atlantic, to the smallest, Virgin Bride - would have its own e-commerce facility by the end of the year.
'Anyone who ignores the internet is foolish. This will radically enhance the way in which we serve our customers in the future and will eventually provide internet access for all,' Branson claimed.
Virgin Net will offer free internet access on behalf of the Virgin Group to all of its existing 150,000 customers from 1 April and to the general public from 1 May. Access will include 10Mb of Web space and five email addresses.
Branson said Virgin had opted for a phased launch to ensure that service levels were not reduced in quality. 'We will do our utmost to make the transition as smooth as possible,' he added.
Unlike other free services, which charge 50 pence and more for telephone support, Virgin has decided to adopt a two-tier approach. Members can choose to pay a premium rate of #1 per minute for support, or can pay a subscription rate of #5.99 per month. The previous subscription rate was #11.99.
Branson said content would be a core part of Virgin's portal, but unlike other ISPs, such as America Online, he did not believe that consumers should have to pay for it.
'We are offering it free to the customer along with free access - other free internet services do not offer anything like this quality of service.
If we have cinema seats available or empty seats on a flight to Orlando, for example, we can let our customers know about special deals,' he added.
Virgin also plans to introduce an internet loyalty card to give customers cash discounts off its products and services.
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