"Roaming" lets users access their Net accounts from any domestic location and some international areas through an 800 number. Through Sprint's Internet Passport service, customers can roam for an additional $4.80 per hour.
Many businesses use the same tactic to let far-flung employees log on to internal networks or get online. But ISPs across the country are beginning to offer the service in order to generate revenue from business users who can't travel and leave their Net connections behind.
Pacific Bell and UUNet both announced their roaming service this month. And partners continue to sign up with iPass Alliance, which lets ISPs offer users a local access number in more than 150 countries.
"The important thing is to make sure that no matter where people are, they can access the Internet," said Sprint spokesman Jeff Shafer.
Roaming access costs $2 to $6 per hour and is usually offered domestically, though iPass has rolled out international service. International roaming prices differ for individual iPass ISPs. The company next week will announce more partners in Europe.
"It's a natural progression...Businesses are becoming very reliant on the Internet," said Karen Chakmakian, director of marketing for iPass.
But the real reason roaming access service is booming is that "ISPs can actually make money by offering such a service," she added. "Most of the people are business travelers and they don't care about the prices because they want it to work and to know it's reliable."