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ISP has technical difficulties

A start-up that is trying to lure fed-up AOL customers with free Net access has run into some technical problems of its own.

A start-up company that is trying to lure fed-up America Online customers with free Internet access has run into some technical problems of its own.

A glitch on the Web site of j3 Communications has blocked would-be Netizens from signing up since late Friday. When customers click on a link labeled "connect now for free Internet access," they get a message reading "access forbidden."

Earlier this month, j3 said it would offer free, unlimited Internet access nationwide if customers sign up with the company as their long distance telephone carrier. j3 is offering Net access at 28.8 kbps to customers in 350 cities worldwide and has the capacity to handle up to 600,000 customers.

j3 president James Wagner today confirmed the problem. "We've had some technical problems with [our] registration server and dedicated lines into the bank," he said. "They've been working on it all weekend."

Wagner said the problem would be fixed by tomorrow. He added that users could still get access to the rest of j3's Web page and that existing long distance and Net customers were unaffected.

Wagner said signups for the free Net access have been much lighter than expected, totaling about 5,000 customers so far. "I would have expected 4,000 to 5,000 signups per day," he said.

He thought people might be skittish because they thought the offer was "too good to be true." He also wondered whether people who became frustrated with service problems at AOL dropped their Internet access altogether.

j3's launch follows similar deals offered by and Cyber FreeWay that offer Net access with no regular monthly fees. The going rate for unlimited Net access typically is $19.95 per month.

j3 is not alone in suffering some technical hiccups. The publicity of some of these services has taxed customer service lines, at least initially. Some cusotmers originally had trouble contacting, for example, after various publications picked up a press release touting the service.