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AOL preps premium charges

America Online members get a two-day reprieve from running up their service bills while playing premium games.

    America Online (AOL) members got a two-day reprieve from running up their service bills while playing premium games.

    But starting tomorrow, members will have to pony up $1.99 an hour to enjoy these pay-for-play games.

    The online service was slated to begin the controversial hourly charges on Saturday, despite an active protest by some members angered that AOL will be charging fees on top of its flat-rate pricing of $19.95 per month. Members who aren't willing to pay for games will only have today to play free.

    The premium gaming pricing was delayed for three days so AOL could "make sure we had worked out all the various technical issues," said company spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg.

    Attorneys general from several states also have been thoroughly briefed on AOL's plans to charge premiums, Goldberg added.

    Several AOL members have not taken kindly to the fact that they will have to pay extra hourly charges after being promised that they'd get unlimited access to the service for one flat rate. Some have flooded company executives with email and petitions.

    But AOL has said that the move to charge for the premium games does not represent an abandonment of its flat-rate policy. In fact, members should expect more areas to begin charging extra fees.

    "We have said since we went to $19.95 (flat-rate pricing) that there might be areas that added extra value where it made sense to charge premiums, and games is one of those," Goldberg said. "It is likely there will be others down the road but we have no plans at the current time.

    "We did hear from some members and they certainly voiced concerns, but we felt confident that when they see the offerings on games they will see they offer extraordinary added value."

    Judging from comments submitted to AOL by angry members, they have not been appeased.

    Many have threatened to leave the service. Some members are dedicated gamers who have stayed with AOL specifically because it has offered unlimited game play for no surcharges.

    "One of the reasons I keep AOL is because of the unlimited access usage, and if you charge for the games I will cancel it," wrote one user in a typical posting.

    AOL is not the only service to decide to charge Netizens more for a popular product. A handful of online services--as well as AOL's chief competitor, Microsoft Network--have all said they plan to charge premiums for gaming.