MSN Canada has sent a notice to customers stating that as of February 1, 1999, MSN will no longer offer online access in the North American country.
"However, ongoing delivery of high-quality, high-speed, reasonably priced Internet access will be available from AT&T Canada Internet Service, our preferred Internet access provider," the notice states.
MSN subscribers can keep their "msn.com" email addresses, but AT&T will be the provider. The monthly cost of $24.95 will remain the same for most customers, and in some cases will go down.
"Initially, Internet adoption rates were low, and the quality of content was substantially less compelling than what it is today," MSN explained in a FAQ about the termination. "At that time, it was easier for the general public to look to a single source for access and content, so we offered them that experience--we made it that easy. But again, our focus was on what happened once subscribers were connected."
MSN's departure from the Canadian access market is another sign that the company doesn't see itself as a simple ISP. Instead, like many players on the Net, MSN aims to bolster its position as a Web portal--a site that's anything and everything to Net users when it comes to content and commerce, instead of the equivalent to a local telephone service provider.
"We will be focusing on our popular Internet portal page and in that way providing access to the best of the Internet and Microsoft's network of online services, including Hotmail, Microsoft's Web-based free email program, and other services like communities, MSN Expedia, and MSN Investor," MSN Canada states in the notice.
In July, MSN also shifted from being the primary provider for its German subsidiary and instead decided to cobrand the service with Primus-Online.
Microsoft entered the online services market in October 1996 by introducing a subscription-based proprietary service with television-style entertainment content, seen as its best weapon to compete against then rivals America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy.
The foray was eventually was sidelined for free advertising and e-commerce-based Web properties. The company later pushed its content out beyond its firewalls into the free Web space, and essentially whittled MSN down to being an ISP with a few Microsoft perks thrown in.
Now the strategy has shifted again to the portal concept.
Despite the seemingly smooth transition plan, some customers are not happy about MSN pulling out of Canada.
"I've always considered MSN better than AOL and more reliable," said one customer. "It's disappointing for a major service provider to be vacating the Canadian market."