After a closely watched start tainted with technical difficulties and compounded by poor market confidence, the lifetime Net access company @bigger.net finally has hit its first subscriber mark.
The San Francisco Bay Area-based company launched in January, offering everlasting Net access for a flat fee of $59.95. @bigger.net came on the scene when American Online was struggling under access problems that followed its highly publicized switch to a monthly flat-rate pricing scheme. Building off AOL's troubles, @bigger.net promised customers it would not oversell access.
Today, the company is making good on its promise and halting acceptance of any new customers. Although many Net access companies would scoff at the idea of turning new clients away, @bigger.net says it has looked forward to this day. For the last 11 months, @bigger.net has struggled to prove to advertisers and its subscribers that it could stay afloat. With 23,000 customers, it now has surpassed its initial cutoff of 15,000, and is beefing up its network capacity to handle what executives hope will be a new wave of subscribers.
"The biggest issue is getting the fiber lines into the building," a spokesman said today. "This is mostly good news because the revenue for @bigger.net is generated by advertisers. So if we can keep a good customer base here, then we'll succeed."
@bigger.net's strategy is nothing new--it plans to support its almost free service with advertising. Whenever subscribers are logged on to the service, a separate rotating ad-banner window pops up. If users shut the window, their Net access will be cut off within two minutes.
Sparing their clients from busy signals and dishing out quality technical support are sought-after qualities many small ISPs are trying to emulate. But @bigger.net's pricing gimmick has been hard to sell, as many consumers are skeptical due to the wave of freebie and one-time-fee ISPs that have gone down the drain. (See related story)
The all-you-can-eat ISP is finally over its first hump, but the challenges that lie ahead may have more do to with the local telephone infrastructure than with a hip marketing campaign.
"The majority of the advertisers that are coming on are local, and that has generated greater interest," @bigger.net's spokesman said. "But getting the extra telephone lines is a problem they hadn't imagined. They are looking to expand into the Los Angeles area, and it's a problem there, too."