Search engine Excite today announced a deal with the British government to provide Web-based email and curriculum to millions of school-aged children as part of the United Kingdom's NetYear program.
As reported Friday, sources said they expected the free email deal to be anounced as part of today's launch of NetDay by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Excite would not comment on the report until today. Excite offers the product in concert with another provider, WhoWhere.
"This initiative shows how private companies can work together with the government to move critical initiatives such as making sure that all school children have equal access to technology," Joe Kraus, senior vice-president of Excite, said.
The company also called on the Clinton administration to give free email addresses to every school child in the United States, making good on its promise to "connect all schools in America" to the Net by the year 2000. Excite also said it will roll out a lifetime program of free email addresses to users dubbed ExictePost.
As in the United States, the goal of U.K. NetYear is to wire more public schools to the Net. A Web site already is posted to discuss the program. The site also indicates that Sun Microsystems and Cisco will help with the effort. Blair has called NetYear the "biggest ever public-private partnership in any education system, anywhere in the world."
"At present only some 6,000 schools in the U.K. are connected to the Internet," according to information posted on the site. "The aim of U.K. NetYear is to increase this total to 17,000 by the end of 1998, and in conjunction with the National Grid for Learning have all 32,000 schools on the Net by 2002."
Sources said the U.K. government would encourage children, perhaps as many as 10 million, to use the free email provided by Excite as part of the program. Since it would be government sponsored, the chances of persuading many of them to sign up would be high.
The deal is another example of the march by U.S. search engines including Excite, Yahoo, and Microsoft recently bought Hotmail to provide free email to users of the Microsoft Network for a premium. Before that, Yahoo bought Four11 to provide free email.
Despite its popularity, some users find the ads that support the free email intrusive. The companies say the ad revenue generated is the only way to keep the services free of charge.