@Home Subscribers Angered By New Policies

Users of TCI’s @Home cable-based internet access service are fuming over a new subscriber agreement the company issued by e-mail last week.

The 9,000-word document includes several provisions which have left many subscribers aghast. A section on privacy, for example, says [email protected] may collect and share information about subscribers and their use of the service to a number of third parties. They include billing and collection services, market research firms and merchants or advertisers.

The new agreement also includes provisions which appear to make it a violation to use the service for any kind of business-related purpose — even checking work e-mail from home.

Scott Greczkowski is MIS director at a Connecticut law firm and the founder of the @Home user group in that state. He finds the restrictions on business use objectionable, especially one which specifically forbids the use of PPTP or other tunneling IP protocols which are often used by telecommuters to securely connect to private networks.

“They’re limiting what you can do on the Internet,” he said.

John Navas, an independent telecommunications analyst in California and a [email protected] subscriber, said the new user agreement is just the latest effort by TCI to partition its @Home access service from its business-oriented and more expensive @Work service.

“They are dumbing down @Home and trying to push anything else up to @Work,” Navas said.

The new contract requries subscribers who don’t agree to the changes to immediately stop using the service and notify the company in writing. Accordingly, Navas has written to the CEOs of both @Home and TCI, citing the new agreement’s “onerous, unreasonable and unacceptable terms” and demanding a refund of his installation costs.

According to Navas, the contract reveals a lot about TCI’s long-term strategy for @Home.

“Their push to gather and sell user data tells me they want to become a commerce portal site, along the lines of America Online,” he said. “That’s a different profile than many people expected, and raises the issue that DSL may be a better option for serious Internet users.”

[email protected] officials were unavailable for comment.

The new subscriber agreement comes amid growing complaints of performance problems at the service. Greczkowski says that many Connecticut @Home users have frequently seen throughput drop during busy evening hours to around 28 kilobits per second. He also says @Home users are reporting delays of up to a week in sending and receiving e-mail, suggesting problems with the service’s mail servers.

Separately, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing said @Home’s “churn” rate, or the percentage of subscribers who cancel their service, is currently less than 3.5 percent. Speaking at a conference in Boston, Charles Moldow also predicted @Home’s total revenues will hit $2 billion by 2002.

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