RealTime IT News

BlueLight.com Puts Strings On Free Service

BlueLight.com revised the conditions of its free dial-up Internet service this week, joining the ranks of the other free Internet service providers attaching strings to free Internet access.

Similar to the restrictions first announced by the company late last year, BlueLight.com subscribers will get the first 12 hours of access free starting March 1, when the conditions go into affect.

The e-tailer has had a cap on the length of time subscribers can access BlueLight.com's service since it first announced plans in December, 2000, to limit the time spent by bandwidth hogs roaming the Internet on BlueLight.com's lines.

Today, a BlueLight.com subscriber is booted off the Internet after 25 hours, until the next month.

After March 1, that cap is lowered to 12 hours per month. Current subscribers are automatically enrolled in the basic free Internet service plan, with the option to upgrade.

If customers want more, the K Mart Corp. subsidiary offers its "premier" Internet service, giving customers 100 hours per month for $9.95. But there's a catch for paying customers - service is for three hours a day. After three hours, the service is shut off until the next day.

A third tier of Internet service for online K Mart shoppers gives them free unlimited Internet access for a month after making a purchase online. Sorry, it doesn't work for people that actually go to a real K Mart store.

How it works is this: registered BlueLight.com users buy a Martha Stewart hand towel, for example, at $3. The shopper is then notified via email that his or her Internet account has been upgraded to free unlimited Internet access for the next month, starting now.

After that, however, shoppers are going to have to fork out a little more online cash to get the service. Customers get one month of free, unlimited service for every purchase made over $100, in increments of $50, up to six months, after that first month.

So, if a BlueLight.com shopper spends $250 (before shipping and handling), they get four months of unlimited Internet access.

But the window of opportunity for the unlimited service is closing fast. Designed as a test to see if online shoppers will buy products online to get free Internet access, the special lasts until May 31, when officials said the terms of service are subject to change.

Steve Feuling, BlueLight.com chief marketing officer, said the restrictions makes this ISP the only retailer in the U.S. offering free Internet service to its customers.

"With BlueLight's new ISP, we are creating the ideal Internet service for the online shopper by actually rewarding them with free Web access and significant discounts on our site," Feuling said. "No other ISP offers such a value to its customers."

That's because most U.S. retailers co-branded their free Internet service with now-defunct Spinway Inc. K Mart bought the intellectual property and facilities along with many of Spinway's employees in December, 2000, creating an instant online presence.

BlueLight.com unceremoniously dumped customers using Spinway's service through retailers like Costco Inc., and True Value Hardware.

Free Internet service has suffered severe setbacks in the past several months.

NetZero Inc., self-styled "Defenders of the Free World," announced Feb. 7 that they were charging a price for that defense, telling customers who use the service more than 40 hours a month that they have to pay $9.95 a month. After the month ends, service reverts back to the free service.

On Feb. 1, Juno Online Services Inc.,