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Dateline: 19 April 2000 Early Edition
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Z(not quite)Free.co.nz
Yesterday Clear announced the launch of their ZFree "free" Internet service -- but it's a Clayton's free Net service if you look closely.

And if you're a Netscape user then "look closely" is the key phrase!

Check out how Netscape users see the "fine print" in the user sign-up contract.

What's going on here -- are the designers who built the ZFree site really so stupid as to not bother checking how such an important document looks in anything other than IE -- or perhaps they realise that XTRA customers for a long time were shipped only the Netscape browser so it's mainly they who will find the "fine print" so irritating.

If you hadn't realised -- to read the text in that input area you have to scroll not only up and down but left and right for each and every line! I gave up and viewed the page source -- but how many Net "users" would know how to do that or even how to make sense of the HTML that appeared when they did?

Come on guys -- why even bother putting that text into a scrolling textarea if it's not because you're trying to hide something? What's wrong with plain old size=2 Arial/Helvetica text on a regular page?

I gather that Dick Smith and Clear are still smarting over the rather unfortunate outcome of the joint in-store promotion they did a month or two ago where it seems that on at least a few occasions, Dick Smith's assistants (is that an oxymoron?) were unaware that there were Telecom-levied per-minute charges associated with se beyond the first 10 hours. The "flat rate" they promised most certainly wasn't. This left some customers with a rather large and unexpected phone bill.

Yesterday I suggested that Clear's entry into the free ISP market might have been another bitter blow for Telecom -- but on reflection I can see that Telecom was more likely to have had a wild celebration party last night instead!

Think of it -- they stand to collect quite significant amounts of money from anyone who uses the ClearNet service. Oh sure, they have to pass some of it on to Clear in the form of an Interconnect fee but it's still not going to see people deserting the XTRA battlecruiser is it?

So -- which "free" ISP do you use?

Hell... use em all if you want, but just don't get too reliant on any of them.

ZFree will probably be the best option for those who are lucky enough to live just outside the toll-free dialing area of Auckland or another center where Clear have a point-of-presence (POP). In such cases, Telecom are kind enough to offer a flat-rate calling package which usually runs at about $19-$25 per month which gives you flat-rate calling into an adjacent area.

People who subscribe to such a scheme will be able to use ZFree for as long as they want -- without the 2 cents per minute charge. What's even better is that the vast majority of ZFree users are obviously not going to be hanging on the line for hours at a time so it should perform pretty damned well, given that their residential ClearNet service must have been all but destroyed by Telecom's cunning with the 0867 system.

You've got to laugh at Telecom's Glen Sowry. I really can't believe that he said "Clear stands to make a lot of money out of zfree at the customer's expense."

Is this guy for real???

Isn't this the normal customer-supplier relationship? The supplier makes money because the customer pays the expense of using the service?

Mind you, I did spot how Ian Scherger went to great lengths to avoid appearing as a corporate "suit" when he appeared in a clip on TV last night. I wonder how much time he spent cultivating that "I've just got back from a four-day camping trip in the high country" look? :-)

Scherger also says "There's enough room in the market for more than one player" -- to which I say "bollocks!"

Stop and think about this folks -- if advertising was able to generate the revenues needed to support an ISP service -- why don't we have a "free telephone" service which is paid for by a commercial that you have to listen to before you can place a call each time you pick up the receiver?

How much is flat-rate Internet access?... $40/month. How much is a phone line rental and local residential calling per month? Surely if there was enough advertising to support multiple free ISPs then there'd be enough to support such a phone service -- and there'd be plenty of people on low incomes prepared to take up such an offer wouldn't there?

And where's the government while the residential phone users continue to be raped in spite of the Kiwi Share? Well Jimbo is still too busy playing "king of the castle", Helen's too busy hunting witches and bitching about museums, while the rest of them seem to be intent on ignoring the overwhelming will of the country (as per their response to the referenda on reducing MPs numbers).

Censoring the Net Part Deux
I'm currently researching a story which has seen an NZ ISP embroiled in the middle of an international connectivity issue where another player is allegedly blocking traffic.

I hope to update you on this tomorrow.

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