* The contract stipulates that Concentric can terminate a
* connection after 15 minutes of perceived inactivity "to
* provide the best possible service to all members." The
* company said in its email that heavy-use members could
* sign up for a new program that does not contain the
* restrictions of Part 17. It costs about US$240 a month.
Concentric Rule Change Has Members Fuming
by David Lazarus
10:30am 14.Apr.97.PDT Some Concentric Network members
are saying the ISP is trying to give them the boot under
new rules that aim to scale back long-term use of the
service for monitoring email and other such "passive"
"I would be on evening hours, 9 or 10 p.m. to about 1 or 2
a.m.," Victor Negron, a New Jersey Concentric member,
told Wired News. "If you downloaded a file ... that could
take three hours. Who's going to sit there and stare at the
Negron is not alone. Concentric news groups have been
buzzing with discontent since the company sent out email
in February warning that its "Terms of Service," as the
various online services call their various rules, were
about to change.
As a privately held company, of course, Concentric is
pretty much free to do as it pleases. Its efforts to find
enough bandwidth to provide smooth and speedy service
are common to most online concerns. At the same time,
however, Concentric's shift away from cheap, unlimited
access points to a growing trend among ISPs: a
recognition that Internet use is growing too fast to
accommodate one-size-fits-all pricing.
What this means, most analysts agree, is a gradual
phasing out of the unlimited-access plans that have
proven so successful in expanding Internet use, and
introduction of pay-as-you-go pricing where the heaviest
Net users pay the heaviest fees.
In Concentric's case, the revised Terms of Service
presented members with a long, dry read, and it would
hardly be surprising if many never made it down to Part
17, wherein the member acknowledges that the service
"is intended for periodic, active use of electronic mail,
Usenet news groups, file transfers via FTP, Internet relay
chat, interactive games, and browsing of the World Wide
Among the numerous things members must agree not to
do is use the service "on a standby or inactive basis in
order to maintain a connection. Automated electronic or
mechanical processes employed to maintain a constant
connection such as use of an auto-dialer, persistent
checking of e-mail or 'pinging' the host are expressly
The contract stipulates that Concentric can terminate a
connection after 15 minutes of perceived inactivity "to
provide the best possible service to all members." The
company said in its email that heavy-use members could
sign up for a new program that does not contain the
restrictions of Part 17. It costs about US$240 a month.
"I do not have that kind of money for an online service,"
Negron said. "I'm very pissed off about this situation." He
has filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
Katie Green, a Concentric spokeswoman, was sympathetic
toward Negron and other dissatisfied members, but she
insisted that the rule changes are better for the majority.
"We're cracking down more because there are more
people on the Internet," she said, adding that her
company has received "only a handful" of complaints.
Concentric does not reveal its number of members. Green
put the total at "more than 200,000," which would make it
one of the larger ISPs. The largest, Netcom, claims more
than 600,000 members. It tossed out its $19.95 flat rate
earlier this year to concentrate instead on more
lucrative business clients.
"We would not kick anyone off," Green said. "We would let
people know they're in violation, and have them change
this behavior or pay higher prices. We're providing better
service by eliminating some of these violators that cause
busy signals and slow things down."
Steve Mitra, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, said
the only online services that can still turn a profit with
low flat rates are the big boys like America Online and
The Microsoft Network. Smaller outfits, he said, will
continue seeking new revenue models and targeting more
sharply defined customer bases.
"For ... AOL and MSN, they're betting they can charge less
for access and more for commerce and advertising," Mitra
noted. "You have to be a powerful player to make it work.
Time exists so everything doesn't happen at once,
Space exists so everything doesn't happen to you.
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