!== EDS Update 10:55 am: delete hyphen in "K-mart" to "Kmart" in graf 2; change "Alta Vista" to one word "AltaVista" graf 5; change "models'" to "model" graf 4. --> NBCi today jumped on the free Internet access bandwagon, announcing an alliance with Spinway.com to provide nationwide access services.
As previously reported, Spinway.com, a company that specializes in free Internet access through advertising-based services, will provide access through Xoom, which is part of NBCi. Late last year, Spinway began providing the infrastructure for BlueLight.com, the free service provided by retailer Kmart and Yahoo.
The media company also said it was taking a minority stake in Spinway.com in exchange for distribution. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. CNET, publisher of News.com, is an investor in NBCi.
NBCi's move comes after several high-profile Web portals began offering free ISP services. Just yesterday, Lycos said it would offer free access through CMGI-owned 1stUp.com. Yahoo has already drawn hundreds of thousands of users to its free Net access services. The rush to offer free access underscores portals' business model dependency on free services like email to attract and retain returning users.
Of the major Web-only portals, only Disney's Go Network is now left without some kind of access component. AltaVista and Excite@Home have free ISP services, and CMGI's 1stUp.com also teamed up with Latin American portal StarMedia Network to offer free ISPs south of the border.
The Web sites are hoping they can forge the kind of tight relationship between ISPs and their customers that has led America Online to considerable success. AOL has consistently declined to offer its own free service in the face of this new competition, however, or even drop its $21.95 monthly service costs. Still, AOL may be more worried about the free ISP threat than it is letting on, as its biggest portal competitors plow into the market.
NBCi and Spinway will share in advertising sponsorship and e-commerce revenue generated by the new free Internet access service.