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Free Internet At A Price

Customers are now finding out that free Internet is coming at a price.

Hours after Netzero, Inc., announced plans to charge online bandwidth hogs who use its service for more than 40 hours a month, bluelight.com followed in kind, telling customers who use its free dial-up service services for more than 25 hours a month to look somewhere else.

It's a temporary but immediate measure being taken by the new national Internet service provider before the launch of its new service in February, 2001. Terms and conditions of the new bluelight.com ISP haven't been finalized and likely won't be released until the service is started.

For now, however, when the bluelight.com subscriber has been on 25 hours, their Internet connection is immediately shut down and they are not allowed to connect again until the next month.

It's a necessary move made in the best interests of KMart shoppers, said Dave Karracker, bluelight.com spokesperson, after his company bought out now-defunct ISP Spinway, Inc., Dec. 4.

"When we bought out Spinway, our intention was to keep the service going for our shoppers," Karracker said. "We're always going to have a free service in one form or another for our customers. But what we don't want are the heavy Internet surfers, the porn downloaders or the online gamers. We want people who are going to shop at our site."

It's a cost-cutting measure similar to the one taken by NetZero last week. According to both companies a small minority of heavy Internet surfers are using up a lion's share of the network. NetZero said these bandwidth hogs accounted for 50 percent of overall bandwidth costs. To keep those prices in check and continue offering a free service, officials said, those heavy users had to go.

Both had different methods to keep the costs in line, but are similarly effective. Where bluelight.com shuts off its service, NetZero lets its customers stay online after 40 hours and sends them a bill for $9.95.

The effectiveness of either measure is suspect. After all, it's easy enough to sign up for the Internet service in the first place, just ask bluelight.com's 5.5 million registered users.

One month from now, the new ISP might find itself with 11 million registered users: after running out of Internet time on one account, all a person need do is sign up again under a separate alias and get another 25 hours of unfettered free Internet service.