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Dateline: 28 February 2000 Early Edition
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Free Internet -- Worth What You Pay For It?
The guys at Compass Communications are pretty switched on. For quite some time they've been offering a range of innovative telecommunications solutions that stack up pretty well against the bigger players.

However, one must wonder if they've lost their bearings -- because they've launched a free ISP service -- with no strings attached!

Users who sign up will get a minimum of 10 hours of free Net access per month, a figure that might not sound like much to the "power users" amongst us but which is probably just fine and dandy for many of those whose main use is simply sending and receiving a few emails. According to the company, 50 percent of Net users fall into this category.

However -- all is not lost for you power users. Compass are offering totally free, unlimited Net access for the next three months. The only limits seem to be that you're likely to get chucked off after eight hours -- but you can log straight back on according to the online documentation.

On the face of it, this sounds like a brilliant offer -- but I certainly hope those guys at Compass have actually done their homework and haven't underestimated the effect of the small hardcore bunch of Net users who will take full advantage of their free offer. These are the people who will be online 24 hours a day, 7 days per week -- partly "because they can" and partly because they are serious game players, warez users or maybe even purveyors of "adult erotica."

It doesn't take many users like this to severely cramp your bandwidth -- much to the detriment of other users.

For sure this 3-month free-for-all is a great marketing tool -- I just hope it doesn't backfire by causing the system to perform so poorly that it puts off genuine would-be customers who are attracted by the $20 for 300 hours paid access offer.

Compass say "The 'freenet' system follows recent international trends towards lowering the cost of access to the Internet." I sure hope they didn't miss this story which refers to an Australian free ISP service which , coincidentally, is also called FreeNet.

That free ISP found the going hard for the very reasons I cited in this column just a week before the penny dropped for them.

I fear that Compass might just be over-estimating the scale and value of the NZ e-commerce market when it says "we will be giving customers the ability to purchase standard household goods and services on-line from our site" -- and suggesting that revenues from this aspect of the business will offset the cost of providing free access.

While all the surveys might indicate that NZers are buying online in increasing numbers -- I'd wager that the vast majority of them are spending their money off-shore with the likes of Amazon.com and that the rest are only making small purchases that offer the vendor little room to offer healthy commissions to the likes of FreeNet.

Still -- I remain open-minded on this venture. Let's keep an eye on it and see how it holds up to the incredible loads it's likely to experience in the coming weeks.

My advice is to get in quick before they decide to close-off applications -- but don't cancel your other ISP account just yet -- free lunches aren't always as filling as the real thing -- although I'd love to be proved wrong.

As a footnote -- I find it surprising that even though they're obviously prepared to spend a huge amount of money in launching this service (by providing 3 months free unlimited access), they didn't even bother sending me any advance press-release material. Duh!

And guys -- how about providing a mechanism for people to edit their address and phone number details online -- I entered my street address as requested but was then told you'd be trying to send information and offers to that address. Don't waste your money, it'll never reach me because the postman doesn't deliver to my house, that's why I have a post-office box in the city.

From Last Week
A number of people sent email to let me know that Saturn's coverage is much wider than I had realised -- my only excuse is that I live in Auckland so can't be expected to know much about Wellington :-)

A question raised by one reader is "who will be providing the Internet access through Saturn?" -- which is indeed a good question. Currently Saturn uses Paradise.net but since Saturn has now merged with Telstra, will this change?

And Today The NZ Herald Is...
After my comments last week I thought that maybe the folks at the NZ Herald might have done something about their regularly snoozing server. At 6:40am this morning it was once again having a little rest.

I'll keep a little eye on things over the next week or so :-)

As always, your comments are gladly received.


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