Free Internet Gives Up

NEW ZEALAND — Splurge, the last of the free internet providers in New Zealand, has begun charging for its services.

“We have held out as long as possible, but unfortunately, we must also bow to commercial pressures and change Splurge to a subscription based service,” says Splurge spokesman, Mark Frater.

Splurge which ended its stand last week will now offer flat rate access for $9.95 per month for payments made via credit cards. For those who choose to pay by cheque or direct debit, the monthly subscription will be $11.95 per month paid quarterly in advance.

Splurge, which currently offers service in Auckland, only has approximately 5000 active customers. It aims to offer a range of discount offers and specials to its members through association with other New Zealand businesses. Existing customers are being asked to re-register by Friday 4th May so membership can continue.

Free internet took off like a rocket across new Zealand two years resulting in a major increase in the number of Kiwis on-line.

The model began to fail just as quickly as it grew after a $35 million deal struck between Telecom and Clear late last year to settle their outstanding interconnection and legal issues. That essentially saw funds offered by both carriers to free providers for terminating their calls and continued the dominoes tumbling.

The first free internet access service, based around the Free Funds website, was launched in October 1999, offering 20 hours online time to customers of financial services company Electronic Publishing. It discontinued service around August.

Free provider quit the free market in October and is now charging for access. Then Surf4nix was wound up in November last year. The company which had been hosted by Telecom, had its web site taken over by i4free and encouraged its subscribers in the main centres to shift across to i4free.

Last year four players closed down their free offerings and then second largest player i4free warned customers its quality of service would continue to deteriorate and unless they joined its new pay service. It had reached 145,000 subscribers.

This followed the announcement by Clear Communications at the end of last year not to take on any more customers after it reached its alleged optimum target of 250,000 subscribers for its zfree service.

Freenet, owned by Compass Communications which launched in March last year originally had only 10-hours free but extended this to a completely free service after zfree and i4free arrived. Freenet currently had 90,000 signed up but claims about 55,000 of those are active. It reverted to a $14.75 per month charge earlier this year., operated by Mercury Telecommunications, a sister company to Quicksilver internet was is not actively promoting itself until it made a decision to begin charging

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