Major players steer clear of FirstGov

Expensive fees, an advertising ban and privacy restrictions have kept major Internet companies and service providers from signing up as "certified partners" of FirstGov, according to Internet industry representatives.

The General Services Administration released a list of its first 30 "certified partners" on Friday afternoon. The list was more notable because of the companies that were not on it than for those that were.

America Online, Yahoo, MSNBC, AT&T, Juno and other major Internet portals and service providers have not become partners of the the two-month-old governmentwide Internet portal.

Instead, partners include KoolStores.com and Pilex Corp., the maker of an oral medication for the long-term treatment of hemorrhoids.

"The fees are exhorbitant for gold-level partnerships," said David LeDuc of the Software and Information Industry Association. "Any company that is interested would be deterred by the fees."

"That's silly," replied Marty Wagner, associate administrator for governmentwide policy for the General Services Administration. FirstGov fees would be insignificant for major Internet companies, he said, "and I believe you will see some of them" signing on as partners soon. Others have not become partners because they already offer something similar or they do not think FirstGov is something their viewers want, Wagner said.

"Certified partners" are Internet sites whose pages include links to FirstGov. The government portal provides access to 27 million government documents on the Internet and links to dozens of government agency Web sites that offer a wide range of information and services.

Fees for "gold-level" partnership are based in part on the traffic the sites generate and can amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year for sites that attract a large number of viewers. Two other levels of partnership — silver and bronze — are free, but they are less attractive because they divert users off the partner's Web site and into the FirstGov portal.

The fees aren't the only turnoff, according to LeDuc and other Internet business officials. FirstGov forbids companies from putting advertising on screens that display FirstGov information. It also bans the use of "framed" pages that would make FirstGov information look as though it were part of the partner's site. In addition, Internet companies linked to FirstGov are prohibited from tracking users' activity while they access FirstGov information.

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