ISPs' lifeline to stranded FreeNet customers

ISPs' lifeline to stranded FreeNet customers

National ISP Netspace Online Systems is offering customers of the recently abandoned FreeNet service a seamless transfer to its own service, at a price.

Until October, FreeNet had offered its customers free Internet access until chief executive Abbas Aly decided to close the service in order to concentrate on his computer hardware distribution business Triforce.

Over 50,000 subscribers were left without Internet access as a result. Netspace, an ISP with 50 employees and 40,000 paying customers of its own, has come forward with a one-month obligation-free trial to convince Free-Net subscribers to use its service, after which it begins charging a pay-per-download rate.

When FreeNet customers subscribed, they were promised their contact details would never be sold or distributed to a third party. It was then necessary for Netspace to arrange for FreeNet to mail a letter to each of its subscribers detailing Netspace's rescue package. Netspace director Stuart Marburg said his company paid a "modest fee" to FreeNet to keep its mail server running until January next year.

"The money we paid was not very much at all," he said. "It's mostly to do with paying for the postage to all the subscribers."

Marburg said he did not consider free Internet access a viable business option, but is happy to extend the customer's one month free access to the Netspace service. It will then offer a $24.95 per month access fee including up to 350MBs of transfers per month, with a maximum call cap of four hours per call.

"This is the first time we've used this model - in the past we charged on a per-time basis," he said. "But we were going to come out with this pricing option anyway, so we decided to try it in this offer."

Marburg is confident Netspace will gain a healthy new customer base, but is realistic about just how many customers he is likely to sign up considering many FreeNet customers would have signed up elsewhere since October.

"I don't expect 100 per cent of the customers to sign up as a lot of them only used FreeNet as a secondary or backup ISP," he said. "In fact, I don't believe there will even be 10,000 who want to use it. The impression we're getting from people is that many have signed up for a trial offer elsewhere but may be still interested in our offer at a later date if they aren't satisfied with their new ISP."

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