According to a recent report from IDC, most internet users are better off paying for an service provider (ISP) than using a free one. Before reaching this conclusion, IDC put several free ISPs to the test, including BlueLight.com, Excite FreeLane, Freeinternet.com, Juno, NetZero, and WorldSpy.net (defunct soon after the test).
“Free ISP services fared pretty dismally for the most part,” said Steven Harris, research analyst with IDC’s Business Network Services research program, who conducted the tests. “With few exceptions, free ISPs have a long way to go to meet even the low expectations of US ISP consumers, especially as they attempt to get started.”
Harris says this free service comes with other high costs to the user. For example, users must be willing to expend lots of time to use these services. Harris said the time needed to download the dial-up software was often lengthy. Additionally, before users can start using the service, they are often required to provide reams of demographic information. Other problems were slow logging in connection times. In fact, in some instances Harris became so frustrated while downloading pages that he disconnected from the service altogether.
Another common drawback of using free ISPs is advertising, which all but one use to generate revenues, and the single non-ad ISP since went out of business. Most of the free ISPs IDC tested use a bar for advertising that remains on the user’s screen the whole time s/he is logged on. According to Harris, the problem with these bars is that they often cover information, and the user is forced to keep moving the ad around the screen.
“What ISPs must keep in mind is that the point of getting online is to be able to see the content,” Harris said. “Interfering with that essential point lessens the quality of the experience.”
For internet users who absolutely do not want to pay for service, IDC recommends subscribing to several free service providers so that a backup is always available.
“Given the frequency with which I experienced software and log-in problems, I think it’s wise to have a whole stable of ISPs available,” Harris said.