LibertySurf makes IPO as free Internet surges in France

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PARIS--LibertySurf, France's leading free Internet access provider, is scheduled to enter the Paris stock exchange on March 16 in the country's biggest-ever Internet initial public offering.

LibertySurf, a joint venture between the U.K. retailer Kingfisher Group and France's Europ@web, the Internet division of the Arnault Group, is being valued by investors at around $3 billion to $3.5 billion. Launched in May 1999, LibertySurf has garnered more than 610,000 clients so far.

LibertySurf's IPO comes as a study commissioned by the French Internet Access and Service Providers Association, AFA, reveals that nearly 35% of French Internet users have opened accounts with advertising-driven free Internet access providers.

A Mediametrie survey shows that 5.9% of all French households were connected to the Internet by the end of 1999, up from 4.7% of all households just three months earlier.

The AFA claims that its member companies reported more than three million individual Internet accounts as of January 2000, up from just 1.92 million in October 1999.

LibertySurf's successful conclusion of the IPO will likely bring major windfalls to Havas Advertising-controlled Le Nouvel Eldorado, Paris, which has handled the Internet access provider's estimated $15 million advertising budget since July 1999.

Le Nouvel Eldorado has launched a new wave of TV ads to coincide with the IPO, under the signature slogan "LibertySurf. Freely access tomorrow's riches."

The spot was created by agency @n-@ff (pronounced 'on-off'), a new division just launched by Havas Advertising and Le Nouvel Eldorado specializing in dot-com advertisers.

Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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