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AOL, Internet growth and the Yankees

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 1999


I take exception to the survey used (Sept. 13) to indicate that America Online was inferior to MindSpring. I have MindSpring at work and I use AOL at home. Because of problems connecting to MindSpring at work, I use my personal AOL account to connect to the Internet. It is generally faster and I have never experienced problems connecting to AOL, unlike MindSpring.

Tally a vote for America Online. It works for you, which is great. Personal experience is the best gauge of a service. But the survey by J.D. Power & Associates, the well-known market research firm, is not the first time MindSpring (which said recently it will merge with EarthLink) has won high marks. PC World magazine ranked it No. 3 in a test of national providers last winter, with AOL at No. 15. Maybe the most-asked question we receive is "Which is the best Internet service provider?" Customer satisfaction surveys help give users some guidance on what others think.

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It would help me to hear your projections for Internet growth and the perceived price reductions for online services. It appears to me that the current firm prices are very volatile at best and may erode at any time.

Volatile? I don't think so. Twenty bucks a month or so has been the most quoted number for a few years for standard over-the-phone connections. Despite expectations for online ad revenues, an America Online executive recently was quoted as saying that AOL would have lost money last year without its subscription fees. Smaller ISPs make money by designing and hosting Web sites and other services, not just from access fees. In fact, Microsoft has bumped its rates for MSN to $21.95 a month, which matches AOL

Maybe you've read about "free" access in Europe and think it might migrate here. But it's not really free. Over there, users may get AOL access for free, but they pay a per-minute charge for phone time. As a result, Europeans spend a fraction of the surfing time Americans do since the meter is always running.

We are seeing more access choices, such as cable modems and digital subscriber lines, but those higher-speed options cost more than a regular dial-up connection. Increased competition may cut prices for these high-speed connections -- but that depends on cable companies and phone companies, not necessarily known for bargain pricing. Some companies may offer package deals, where if you sign up for Internet access and, say, some phone services, you might get a break on rates.

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You recommended (Sept. 13) using a Yankees screensaver instead of the Phillies! What's wrong with the Devil Rays? Fine St. Pete reporter when you don't support our local team. That's part of the attendance problem.

Rest assured that Solutions columnist John Torro and I are not part of the Devil Rays' attendance problems. We go to games at the Trop and cheer for the Rays (most of the time). It's just that, as native New Yorkers, we also happen to love our Yankees. And breaking up is hard to do

-- Readers can send questions, comments and suggestions to techtimes@sptimes.com, or to P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Comments may be edited and paraphrased for clarity and space.

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