Free ISPs Have Other Costs, IDC Warns; IDC Puts Free ISP Service to the Test

FRAMINGHAM, MA – JULY 31, 2000 – According to a recent report from IDC, most Internet users are better off paying for an Internet service provider (ISP) than using a free one. Before reaching this conclusion, IDC put several free ISPs to the test, including, Excite FreeLane,, Juno, NetZero, and (defunct soon after IDC's test).

"Free ISP services fared pretty dismally for the most part," said Steven Harris, research analyst with IDC's Business Network Services research program, who conducted the tests. "With few exceptions, free ISPs have a long way to go to meet even the low expectations of U.S. ISP consumers, especially as they attempt to get started."

While the provision of service at no monetary cost is the biggest benefit free ISPs offer, Harris says this free service comes with other high costs to the user. For example, users must be willing to expend lots of time to use these services. Harris said the time needed to download the dial-up software was often lengthy. Additionally, before users can start using the service, they are often required to provide scores of demographic information. Other time-consuming issues IDC encountered were problems logging in and slow connection times. In fact, in some instances Harris became so frustrated while downloading pages that he disconnected from the service altogether.

Another common drawback of using free ISPs is advertising, which all but one use to generate revenues, and the single non-ad ISP since went out of business. Most of the free ISPs IDC tested use a bar for advertising that remains on the user's screen the whole time he/she is logged onto the Internet. According to Harris, the problem with these bars is that they often cover information on Web pages, and the user is therefore forced to continually move the ad around the screen.

"What ISPs must keep in mind is that the point of getting online is to be able to see the content," Harris said. "Interfering with that essential point lessens the quality of the experience."

For Internet users who absolutely do not want to pay for Internet service, IDC recommends subscribing to a bunch of different free Internet service providers so that a backup is always available.

"Given the frequency with which I experienced software and log-in problems, I think it's wise to have a whole stable of ISPs available," Harris said.

IDC recently published, The Free ISP Experience (IDC #B22574). This report documents IDC's experiences with six free ISPs. Each experience is described in detail. Additionally, IDC compares and ranks the free ISPs based on their set up ease and quality of online experience. The report also summarizes the benefits and drawbacks of free ISPs and offers advice on working with free ISPs. To purchase the report, contact Bruce Atlas at 1-800- 343-4952 at extension 4053 or at

About IDC

IDC delivers dependable, high-impact insights and advice on the future of ebusiness, the Internet, and technology to help organizations make sound business decisions. IDC forecasts worldwide markets and trends and analyzes business strategies, technologies, and vendors, using a combination of rigorous primary research and in-depth competitive analysis. IDC provides global research with local content through more than 500 analysts in 43 countries worldwide. IDC's customers comprise the world's leading IT suppliers, IT organizations, ebusiness companies, and the financial community. Additional information can be found at

IDC is a division of IDG , the world's leading IT media, research and exposition company.

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