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Concentric limits unlimited access

The ISP says "no more" to customers who log on to the Net and keep their connections open all day.

Netizens used to logging onto the Net and staying connected all day are getting a virtual slap in the face from Internet service provider Concentric Network.

Concentric offers a $19.95-per-month unlimited usage plan and many of the customers who subscribe to this plan are used staying connected all day. But Concentric now says, "no more."

The company sent out a letter telling those customers they have three alternatives: They can sign up for a $245 per month business plan, change their ways, or get booted from the service, which has more than 200,000 users.

Concentric is far from alone. ISPs everywhere are trying to figure out how they can make a buck, keep their servers up and running, and provide unlimited access all at the same time. Some, such as Netcom, have annouced they plan to abandon flat-rate pricing altogether--although they haven't done it yet. Others, such as America Online, have been encouraging users to log off after a certain period of time.

Until now, Concentric has turned a blind eye to users who violated their official terms of service by logging on and staying online without using the service or by using more storage space than the service terms allow.

But Concentric has decided to crack down on individuals who really are using the service like a business, according to Don Schutt, vice president and general manager of Concentric.

"When there was a small amount of people, we could look the other way," Schutt said. "It's our own fault. We should have cracked down from the beginning, but we didn't."

Concentric will actually kick users off after their computers remain idle for 15 minutes.

AOL has adopted a similar policy. The online service sends a note to subscribers after they've been logged on 45 minutes asking them if they really want to remain online. AOL also will automatically log users off after their account has been idle for 15 to 20 minutes or more, depending on the application they're using.

This policy is very unpopular with some members who complain that AOL is in effect limiting access while saying it is offering unlimited access.

For customers who complain about Concentric's new policy, Schutt would like to draw a distinction between unlimited access and unlimited usage. He said the $19.95 plan lets users access the service any time they want but not necessarily to use it anytime and for as long they want. The plan for business use, he pointed out, allows truly unlimited access and usage.

Not everyone buys this argument. Some customers say their $19.95 fee entitles them to use the service however they want. Other customers--especially businesses--have not realized they were violating Concentric's policy and have willingly moved to the business plan, Schutt said.

"In the newsgroups, we've been hung, berated, torn apart, ripped apart," Schutt said. "But 90 percent of the telephone callers said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't know I was doing it,' and they've all changed. As far as I know, not more than 12 people called to cancel their service."

Schutt also said users are welcome to remain connected to the system 24 hours a day--as long as they're actively using the system instead of using a program to keep their connection active.