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Dateline: 3 April 2000 Early Edition
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What's Going On Here?
There's a new kid on the block, looking to muscle in on the "Free Internet" scene and offer us all a cost-free browsing experience -- but, if they are to be believed, everybody hates them.

I refer to i4free.

Having problems reaching that site? Well reports are that some ISPs have blocked access to it and the speculation is that they've done so because they're afraid that their users might be lured away by the prospect of free a free Internet account.

If that is the case (which I've yet to establish), one must wonder why they haven't done the same thing with free.net.nz, another service offering 100% free Net access.

I see that i4free is also having problems with Telecom.

Annette Presley (is that the Annette Presley who worked at MDL in the early 1980's?) says that at the 11th-hour, Telecom got snotty and pulled the plug on their 0867 service because it was being redirected through Clear.

This is nothing new -- Telecom has bitched about ISPs trying this out before -- but I had to laugh at a Telecom spokesman who more or less said that it was i4free's own fault for not playing by the rules -- as if to insinuate that "the rules" were a fair and reasonable way for all parties to get a good deal.

Excuse me -- but when Telecom alone makes the rules to suit its own ends I don't think this is a valid excuse.

Of course we all remember that the Labour/Alliance government promised a swift investigation into Telecom's alleged abuse of its monopoly in respect to the 0867 service don't we? Well don't hold your breath people, this government, like the last, is busy proving yet again that when it comes to the new economy, it knows absolutely nothing and does even less.

Anyway... it appears that i4free managed to organise another work-around to the 0867 problem over the weekend in order to make sure things are running for this morning's launch.

So should Telecom and a small number of ISPs be afraid of the arrival of i4free?

I don't think so.

Telecom are probably just really ticked off because i4free's redirection scheme was going to cost them some money they were obliged to pay to Clear under an interconnect agreement (ie: "rules") that they drew up and agreed to play by previously.

From an ISP perspective -- sure, there will be some loss of customers to such a service and there can be no doubt that free ISPs will find a niche in the marketplace -- but given just how little money businesses are prepared to spend on Net advertising and sponsorship I still have major questions about the viability of this business model.

Certainly none of the major ISPs in other markets have been hurt by the arrival of free ISPs and, outside of the UK, the business model behind the ad-funded free ISP model has proven to be unsustainable on several occasions.

So... maybe Telecom needs a slap upside its head for being so arrogant, the government needs a kick up the backside for being so slothful and reneging on its promises, and any ISP that's blocking access to i4free ought to stop being quite so precious and learn to live with the fact that there will always be competition out there.

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