The move comes as part of an overall change in its billing structure for all its dial up services, including ISDN service.
Beginning November 1, GTE will institute an access cap for its dial-up Internet service to 100 hours, according to an email the ISP sent out to its subscribers. The email added that subscribers will be charged $1 for every hour beyond the limit.
In addition, GTE ISDN subscribers will see a cut in their monthly subscription fees to $29 from $39, and a cap in usage at 50 hours a month with a $1 charge for every hour above the limit. Like its dial-up service, GTE formerly marketed its ISDN Internet access service as "unlimited" for a monthly fee.
GTE's Internetworking becomes the latest in a list of ISPs to cap the number of hours their subscribers stay online. Previously, AT&T WorldNet, MCI Internet (which is now owned by Cable and Wireless), and Pacific Bell, among others, instituted similar policies to wean out "bandwidth hogs" and free up their networks.
"We're seeing de facto industry-wide standard occurring where ISPs place a usage cap, and our move is consistent with similar activities from other ISPs," said Bill Kula, a GTE Internetworking spokesman. "Fortunately the vast majority of our sub base will not be affected by the usage cap, and we're communicating to them directly as to what their usage history has been, to better help them understand where they are in the usage mix."
But the trend also has generated some dissension among subscribers angered by what they consider to be another strategy to leash access.
A number of people have posted comments in newsgroups since the company sent out the email notification on October 1. Many GTE subscribers were upset the company reneged on the unlimited access service that had attracted them to the ISP in the first place.
"I hope this is NOT the beginning of things to come for other Internet providers," wrote one newsgroup participant. "If I were a GTE subscriber I'd drop their service now and sign on with someone else who does not have this kind of plan. Keep unlimited use/flat pricing forever!!!!"
Others thought the decision was correct and would decrease network congestion. "If you *need* to use the Internet more than 100 hours a month for nonessential use, I *highly* suggest you look into what is probably a void in your life," wrote one user.
Of the 360,000 paid subscribers currently supported on the network, 95 percent spend less than 25 hours per month online, according to a GTE spokesman. Thus, the decision was made to eliminate the small percentage that GTE says is abusing the system.
So far, industry analysts have responded positively to the caps, saying access limitations would help ISPs better manage their networks and reduce congestion.
"It's indicative of the fact that available bandwidth has become a limited resource," said Abhi Chaki, an analyst at Jupiter Communications.
But some providers have been reluctant to cap usage, worried that Net users will rebel. Instead, some ISPs, such as America Online, have instead chosen to raise monthly access fees.