Freeserve were a UK Internet Service Provider which claimed it was "the UK's first fully featured free Internet Service". Launched on the 22nd of September 1998, by Dixons Group plc and Planet Online, it proved massively popular because there were no registration or set-up fees -- unlike with all prior UK Internet Service Providers -- and no monthly subscription charge to pay. The only thing that customers had to pay for was a local rate phone call to access the service; the call charges appearing on the subscribers phone bill in the usual way. Setup was easy, with a free disk/cd available at local Dixons electrical stores, and the only equipment the subscriber was required to buy was a dial-up modem. In the year 2000, Freeserve stated that their service provided the following: No registration or subscription charges; 100% local rate phone call access; Free unlimited email addresses; Free 15MB of web space; Free UK content; Free online email support; and Free sign-up and registration software
(Pictured: the original Freeserve Logo)
(Pictured: the 'New' Freeserve Logo launched in 2001, outlining its the UK's number 1 ISP for subscriber base)
It is generally recognised that Freeserve was the UK's first mass appeal Internet Service Provider, and this is born out by the fact that as a newly found company it managed to become a constituent of the FTSE100 Index. Freeserve flotation was at the peak of the dotcom bubble, and the BBC reported on the July 23th 1999, that its shares had been 10 times oversubscribed, with "Traders expecting to pay up to 30% above the indicated price range for its shares". Prior to Freeserve, accessing the Internet was time consuming due to the requirement of filling out a registration and sometimes signing a contract. By doing away with that, Freeserve allowed the general public to try the Internet with little outlay or commitment. This was important, at the time, due to the public's lack of knowledge of the Internet, and in some cases mistrust of the new technology; due to scare stories in the media of online viruses and hacking.
In 2000, only two years after its launch date, Freeserve had over one and half million subscribers and was by far the UK's most popular Internet Service Provider. As was the case with many early Internet Service Providers, Freeserve was acquired by a competitor, Wanadoo, in late 2000, for a price of £1.64bn. Operated by France Télécom S.A. -- renamed/rebranded to Orange S.A. in 2006 -- Wanadoo was backed/funded by one of Europe's largest telecommunications companies. On the 22nd November 2000, the BBC reported that, "In September, Freeserve reported that its losses had doubled, as it was hit by problems caused by heavy demand for unmetered users". Therefore, it was probably the ideal time to sell Freeserve to a company who had the resources to absorb the losses and could provide the infrastructure to support a subscriber base that had grown beyond what could be managed.
Due to Freeserve's popularity in the UK, it maintained it's own branding until 2004, when it was eventually rebranded to Wanadoo. Wanadoo would eventually be rebranded to Orange in 2006, as telecommunications services began to merge and mobile phones could access the Internet.