Colorado Springs, Colo.-based USA.net said people have 30 days to transfer account names and saved messages to the new service. People who sign up before July 31 will pay $29.99 for a year of service. Those who sign up after that date, however, must pay $49.99 a year.
"Advertising dollars just don't work anymore," said USA.net spokeswoman Danette Lopez. "The economic conditions just don't allow us to do a free service anymore, and we wanted to make sure our customers at least had an option."
USA.net is the latest company attempting to convert people from a free service to one that is paid. Early this year, free Internet service provider NetZero began applying a 40 hours-per-month usage limit to its free service, following in the footsteps of its former rival Juno Online Services in placing a usage cap.
USA.net "is definitely just following the lead of some other service providers who are trying to basically make money in the economic times that we're finding ourselves in," said Betty Cho, an Internet analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings.
USA.net provides a Web-based e-mail service that boasts more than 4 million consumers and corporate e-mail outsourcing. Its new e-mail service, dubbed Net Address Messaging Center, will offer subscribers new features, including Virus-scanning on incoming mail, more e-mail storage space and POP access.
The company said its corporate service will remain unchanged.