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Free ISP files to go public

Freei.net, a free Internet service provider that competes with NetZero, is looking to raise more than $172 million on Wall Street.

Freei.net, a free Internet service provider that competes with NetZero, is looking to raise more than $172 million on Wall Street.

The company will be the first free ISP to go public since the free Internet service reached the mainstream. But it may not have the best timing.

NetZero shot up after its initial offering last fall, but has plummeted since the end of January this year.

Free ISP companies have sunk their roots deep into the mud of Internet culture over the last six months. Where NetZero was once an oddity online, now Yahoo, Excite@Home, AltaVista and even Kmart are now giving away Net connections.

The idea has even gone beyond basic dial-up connections with the addition of the Broadband Digital Group's FreeDSL.com service, which this week began offering free high-speed Net connections in several U.S. cities.

All of the companies are hoping to make money through advertisements that are kept on top of subscribers' screens as long as the subscribers are online. The services track their subscribers' movements online in order to target these advertisements closely to individual interests.

Freei.net, with about 1.1 million active subscribers, is one of the largest of the pure Internet service providers. It offers service around the United States, and recently added a Singapore-based joint venture to its portfolio.

Like other young Internet companies, its ambitions look better than its balance sheet, however. In 1999, the company made just $983,000 in revenues and lost a total of $18.7 million.