Users pour into free ISPs
October 13, 1999
by Chris Yurko
(IDG) -- Neither AltaVista nor dotNow can claim to be the first company to offer free, advertising-supported Internet access. But these companies aren't concerned with being first--they both want to be the biggest free Internet service provider. In fact, both companies claim to be signing up subscribers faster than any other new ISP ever.
AltaVista says it has registered an "unprecedented" 550,000 users since it launched its FreeAccess service in August. While AltaVista may have had a head start and a massive advertising budget, dotNow creator Ed Andrews isn't worried. He predicts dotNow's numbers will be "significantly higher" than AltaVista's in its first two months.
"Our claim to fame may be that we are the fastest-growing ISP in history," says Ed Andrews, president of Asoftware, parent company of dotNow.
Andrews isn't shy about making bold statements. He claims that Asoftware owns the patent on ad-supported free Internet access. (That claim is disputed by Smart World Technologies, owners of FreeWWWeb, another free ISP.)
Freedom of choice
Nevertheless, the launch of both dotNow and FreeAccess within the past two months means consumers have at least two more choices in the growing arena of free Internet access. And more choices could be on the way.
"As costs come down, we expect to see others follow suit with free services," says David Emanuel, AltaVista's director of communications. "We really believe there's a demand. It's the fastest way people are getting on line."
The two services are not unlike the other free ISPs out there now, such as Net Zero and FreeWWWeb. They supply free downloadable software and support dial-up access at speeds up to 56 kilobits per second. The trade-off for the free Internet access is an omnipresent banner flashing advertisements that you can't turn off.
And also for free?
AltaVista combines its advertising bar with a microportal providing headline news, a stock ticker, and one-click links to sports, weather, and other information.
DotNow's ad bar is just that--an ad bar with a search function--although Andrews says a future version of dotNow will add a similar customizable portal you can view whether or not you have your full Web browser open.
DotNow supplies a free POP-based e-mail account. AltaVista doesn't--yet. DotNow also provides up to 20MB of e-mail storage space and 20MB of Web storage space.
Before you register for either service, you must fill out an extensive questionnaire, including information such as date of birth, zip code, profession, income, marital status, gender, children, and interests. This information goes into a marketing profile, so the companies know which ads to show you.
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