This guide will help you select the best free internet access provider in the UK (if you are in the USA or Canada go here.) The basics are covered first, providing a good background understanding of the free internet services. An explanation of the various important features is covered so that you can select the best free ISP for your needs from our comparison table.
The Free ISP Catch
Connecting to the internet through most FREE Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the UK is actually not totally free. They may say they are "a 100% free ISP" or "totally free internet access" but they just do not have monthly subscription charges. You typically still have to pay (usually local rate) for the phone calls used to connect to the internet. A small portion of the call charges from the phone company actually goes to the free ISP, which is enough to cover the cost of the service. Additionally some free ISPs also earn revenue from advertising and business sponsorships. The more people that use their service and the more time they spend on the internet, the more money that the free ISP makes. Although you aren't paying anything directly to the ISP, your internet usage still costs you money. However, this is still a much better deal than paying a monthly subscription charge on top of the phone connection charges.
Also watch out for support charges. Most free internet services charge high rates (i.e. 50p a minute) for telephone support. If free support if it is available such as the help and FAQ pages on your free ISP's website or email technical support. Watch out for some of the free ISPs that do not have online help documents and do not offer free email support.
Totally Free Internet Access
There are some companies in the UK that actually offer totally free internet access and more will be going online soon. They are actually totally free ISPs with no monthly subscription charges and no call charges. These totally free ISPs have several different methods they use to earn revenue. Some earn revenue from advertising and e-commerce sales. Many of them are actually phone companies who offer totally free internet service as an enticement to get you to use their phone service for your regular phone calls as well. Some of them hope that you will just use their phone service because of the discounted rates, but others require you to make a minimum amount of phone charges each month (such as £5 or £10) to qualify for the free internet service. Sometimes these services do charge a setup fee (around £20), but this fee may be credited towards future phone call charges. With some free internet services this setup charge is for a telephone adaptor that plugs into your phone line and automatically routes phone calls using their network.
One major problem with these totally free internet service providers is that there is too much demand for their services. Therefore you may endure slow registration times, busy lines when you try to connect, and slow, overloaded, and unstable servers. However, many of the companies are scrambling to increase their capacity and provide better service.
Free ISP Features Overview
Most of the free internet service providers offer unlimited and unrestricted internet access and email, although for most you pay local rate phone charge for every minute you are connected. They generally support 56K modems as well as 64K ISDN. Unless noted in the comments section of the comparison table, most free ISPs support all platforms. However, they generally only have setup instructions for Windows and Macs. They generally offer POP3 email service and sometimes offer free web space to host your web site. They usually offer news servers as well. If the provider does not provide a news server or if they do not carry a group you read, you can always access Usenet discussion groups over the Web through free services like Deja or NewsOne.
Free ISP Comparison Table
The following chart allows quick comparison of the important features of the best free UK internet access providers. For more details or to sign up (you should read all the terms and conditions of the service agreements first), go to the internet providers' websites through the provided links. For an explanation of the terms used in the table, please see our term definitions.
|Free ISP||Access Type||56K||ISDN||Web Space||Comments|
|AOL||FreeCall||Yes||64K||35MB||POP3||AOL offers a one month free trial. After that you must pay a monthly subscription fee plus per minute charges. They have announced a new AOL Flat Rate plan with unmetered Internet access £14.99 a month, including all subscription and Internet telephone charges.|
|Arsenal||0845||Yes||64K||5MB||POP3||Windows users only.|
|Barrysworld||0845||Yes||64K||None||Web / POP3||Free internet for gamers. Just 2 hops to 125 game servers. Currently have 600 lines.|
|Breathe.com||0845||Yes||64K||10MB||POP3||Free e-mail/online help and technical support. Setup help files for Windows 98, 95, CE, Psion and Mac.|
|CallNetUK||0845||Yes||64K 128K||20MB||Web / POP3||Free internet access at local call rate with no signup fees or online charges. Up to 5 free email accounts. Technical support costs 50p per minute.|
|ConnectFree||0845||Yes||64K 128K||No Limit||POP3||Unlimited free email addresses and unlimited free web and FTP space. Full access to over 30,000 newsgroups.|
|DABSOL||0845||Yes||64K||No Limit||POP3||Unlimited free email addresses and unlimited free web space. Unrestricted news feed.|
|EIDOS Net||0845||Yes||64K 128K||20MB||POP3||For gamers. Dial directly into the MPlayer games server. Free unlimited email addresses.|
|Fire-bug||0845||Yes||64K||100MB||Web / POP3||Nice clean site with excellent setup guides.|
|Free4All||0845||Yes||64K||25MB||POP3||Virus protection and spam email filtering at the source.|
|freeISP||0845||Yes||64K 128K||25MB||POP3||Simple, no frills, fast, efficient and free internet. Free from advertising.|
|Free Serve||0845 / FreeCall||Yes||64K||15MB||POP3||Unlimited free internet calls 24/7 for £12.99 a month. Free internet calls on evenings and weekends for £10.99 a month (use 0845 access during weekdays). 0845 access available for occasional users, with no monthly charge.|
|FreeWire||0845||Yes||64K 128K 512K||50MB||POP3||Support multiple ISDN lines for up to 512K bandwidth. Full free news feed. Unlimited email addresses.|
|Get Free Internet||0845||Yes||64K 128K||5MB||POP3||Full range of newsgroups.|
|GO Free||0845||Yes||64K 128K||20MB||POP3||Free 24 hour help desk. Unlimited free email addresses. Quake server available.|
|Hot-Toast||0845||Yes||64K||No Limit||POP3||Unlimited free email addresses and unlimited free web space. Will be offering web based email soon.|
|IC24||0845||Yes||64K||??||Web / POP3||News server is available. Telephone technical support is 50p per minute. Sometimes they offer promotions with free call unmetered 0800 internet calls available at night.|
|LineISP||0845||Yes||64K||25MB||POP3||Unlimited free email addresses. Free email technical support option.|
|TheFreeInternet||FreeCall||Yes||64K||5MB||Web||An annual membership fee of £99.99 (including VAT) gives you unmetered access to the Internet via 0800 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.|
|Tiscali / WorldOnline||0845 / FreeCall||Yes||64K||25MB||POP3||Tiscali offers no-ties, pay-as-you-surf service. It's free to join and all you pay for is your internet calls, which are charged at local rate. It is geared for if you're new to the internet or don't use it very much. They also offer unmetered anytime internet access for £14.99 per month. With either type of account, you get 25 MB of personal webspace and unlimited email addresses.|
|Yahoo! Online||0845||Yes||64K||15MB||Web||Yahoo! Online software is only available for Windows machines.|