British Telecommunications plans to open 2,500 multi-media phone booths, complete with screens, that will enable users to get a free e-mail address and collect and send messages over the internet. The screens can also be used to surf the internet and undertake electronic commerce transactions such as online shopping, and other interactive services such as home banking.

John Swingewood, director of BT Internet Services, said: "The booths will mean that anyone in the UK can have an e-mail address. They will bring all the benefits of the internet to the general public."

E-mail addresses would be supplied by BT's Talk 21 free e-mail service, and the call rates are likely to be set at 1p above local tariffs. Users without an e-mail address can follow instructions to register via the screen and be able to send messages within minutes of the registration process.

The booths will have similar livery and design to BT's normal phone booths. The manoeuvrable 10-inch square screen will appear in the centre of the telephone unit and will be activated by picking up the telephone. Normal phone calls will also be possible. They will begin to be opened from March. Railway and underground stations, motorway service stops and shopping malls, are likely to be early sites.

BT is investing "several million pounds" in the phone booth venture, which follows a huge growth in internet usage in the UK. The number of people using the medium has doubled in the past two years to 7m reflecting the rapid increase in computer ownership and usage.

The move to increase the number of people with an e-mail address is part of BT's strategy of being well placed to benefit from the expected sharp uptake in e-commerce. The group is part of the British Interactive Broadcasting venture, which aims to turn Britain's television sets into interactive devices for e-mail and e-commerce services.

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