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IBM takes heat for new access fees

A plan by IBM Internet Connection Services to drop unlimited pricing for Net access is criticized by some customers and education groups.

A plan by IBM Internet Connection Services to drop unlimited pricing for Net access and implement a pay-per-hour plan after 100 hours is getting heat from some customers and education groups.

As previously reported, IBM said the switch would become effective April 1 for the general public and on July 1 for its education customers. In the United States, for example, customers will pay $19.95 for up to 100 hours per month of Net access; after that, the price is $1.95 per hour.

Internet service providers such as IBM say they need price caps to make their services economical. America Online and Concentric Network have policies that encourage users to log off after a certain period of time. Netcom and CompuServe have steered away from the "all-you-can-eat" rate of $19.95 per month.

But the hourly caps and policies have drawn some criticism.

Spectrum Virtual University (VU), which holds classes online, today issued a statement criticizing the practice. Paul Leighton, a Web administrator for VU, urged Netizens to "send a loud and clear message saying 'No way' to hourly fees."

"At a time when our leaders are urging a bold new vision for the 21st century and developing countries are just beginning to realize the potential of the Internet as a source of knowledge and catalyst for change, turning on the hourly meter is like dropping a SCUD missile on the global village home," Leighton said in a statement.

He added that prices should be "coming down, not up" with faster modems and better ways of managing bandwidth.

IBM, among others, has been a proponent of wiring schools, part of a nationwide effort between high-technology companies and government. Earlier this month, for example, IBM said it would provide hardware and software to seven universities for the next-generation Internet2 network as part of a $3.5 million commitment.

This week, some IBM Net-access customers also have sent email messages to CNET's NEWS.COM to protest IBM's new pricing plan, including threats to switch ISPs.

IBM's ISP newsgroup was buzzing with reaction to the news as well, including many complaints. "This has to be the most hair-brained, ill-conceived, and poorly timed plan of the millennium," one user wrote. Others expressed disappointment but sided with IBM's decision.

"It's a risk of doing business," an IBM spokeswoman responded.

The spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the company has received some complaints about its new plan, but added, "We have not received a great number of them." She reiterated the company's position that customers who regularly exceed 100 usage hours per month consume a big chunk of capacity and the new pricing scheme is needed to sustain affordable monthly fees for the majority of customers.