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Study ranks ISPs' performance

A new study by Boardwatch Magazine ranks the reliability of 90 Internet service providers based on call completion and busy signals.

IBM, recently criticized by some customers for its plans to put an hourly cap on Net access, ranked first in a study of reliability among 90 Internet service providers, while giant America Online fell slightly below average.

The study released today by Boardwatch Magazine is the latest attempt to rank the performance of ISPs, which

The top ten ranked ISPs, in order:
1. IBM Connect
2. TEK Interactive Group
3. MCI
4. Micronet
5. MindSpring
6. GroundZer0
7. Fnet Corporation
8. TDSNET
9. Log On America
10. WebUSA
increasingly are becoming another monthly expense for consumers, similar to long distance telephone service. But as is the case with long distance phone providers, choosing an ISP--and measuring its reliability, for that matter--is no easy task.

In this case, Boardwatch set out to calculate call completion rates and busy signals for 90 Internet service providers. Between January 1 and February 1, more than 145,000 calls were made to 450 points of presence during the peak 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. period.

"Customer dissatisfaction with Internet service providers is growing and is beginning to dramatically increase churn rates as dial-up customers look for alternatives," Jack Rickard, editor of Boardwatch, said in a statement. "Virtually all of it centers around one topic--busy signals. We wanted to see if it was really a problem. It is."

The top ten ranked ISPs, in order, were as follows: IBM Connect, TEK Interactive Group, MCI, Micronet, MindSpring, GroundZer0, Fnet Corporation, TDSNET, Log On America, and WebUSA.

Among those ranked in the top ten by Boardwatch, IBM recently put a 100 hour-per-month cap on access for subscribers who pay $19.95 per month for its service; beyond that, they pay extra. Similar to other ISPs, IBM cited pressure on profits as more users stay logged on for longer periods. But many users complained and threatened to switch ISPs.

Also among the top ten, MCI is offering $14.95 per month Internet access if customers also agree to sign up for long distance telephone service--a significant discount from the standard $19.95 per month rate.

AOL, according to the Boardwatch study, ranked in the "bottom third of the 90 services tested," with an average call completion rate of 87.1 percent--about two points below the average. But, the study said, "they were by no means the worst in the pile."

AOL has been working to increase its reliability. The company said it has spent $700 million during the past year in building its network, and has added 1,000 customer service representatives, among other improvements.

In its own study of Internet access on February 4, Inverse Network Technology said AOL improved its dial-up service in the past year. Inverse also gave high marks to IBM and MCI, among others.