Fed search engine won't come cheap

For-profit Internet companies are likely to pay "tens of thousands" yearly

to hitch their Web sites to the new search engine being built to help the

public better track federal government information, the director of the

project said Monday.

Fees for commercial Internet users will be based in part on the number

of queries they submit to the search engine, said Dave Binetti, interim

director of the Federal Search Foundation. Large companies like America

Online, with more than 20 million subscribers, will probably generate the

most queries and thus pay the highest fees. Smaller companies with fewer

queries would pay less.

Companies will also be charged a flat fee to cover the cost of software

and hardware needed to connect them to the search engine, Binetti said.

The fee schedule is still being developed, but Binetti said the cost

of using the government search engine could reach tens of thousands of dollars

a year for many Internet companies - an amount he characterized as "not

exorbitant."

The fees would apply to Internet companies that want to maintain their

own pages for searching for government information, but want the search

engine behind the page to be the government engine. Any Internet sites will

be able establish hot links to the search engine for free by linking to

Firstgov, the federal government's Internet portal.

The portal is expected to be ready for use in mid September.

Internet companies don't have to use the government search engine, but

there are advantages to doing so, Binetti said.

Since the Firstgov search engine is being designed specifically to search

government sites, it will provide "better comprehensiveness" than engines

designed for a wider range of searches, he said.

And if the search engine works as expected, Internet companies can probably

anticipate recovering some or all of their costs as improved access to government

information attracts more subscribers and advertisers, he added.

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