Good morning Bruce,
Yesterday I was really down on free ISPs. To me, the minimal savings don’t outweigh the hassle. The Broadband Digital Group just might change my mind. Starting in April, they’ll be offering free DSL (digital subscriber line) service. Home DSL can be 50 times faster than a 56K modem connection, and you don’t have to dial up–just plug into your jack, and you’re connected. Unfortunately, it’s not an instant fix–BDG says the service is first come, first served, and they’ve already got a 400,000-person waiting list. Their free DSL appears to work in the same way that ISPs like Netzero and Juno do–they slap a euphemistically named ad server (in this case, the “FreeDSL Browser Assistant” ™) onto your desktop. This fellow perches on your desktop whenever you’re online. Presumably, with free DSL, it’s always onscreen.
But given the payoff, this seems a relatively minor annoyance. Home DSL generally costs between $50 and $100 a month, if you can get someone to install it in your neighborhood. And it costs about five times as much as dial-up Internet service to provide. Unfortunately, Bruce, that means you’ll have to feel five times as guilty about those sponsors you’re not supporting.
Readers’ Corner: So far we’ve looked at free PC-to-PC calling and free PC-to-phone calling. A host of readers have written in recommending the TalkFree service from i-Link, which offers a new twist: free phone-to-phone calling through a Web site that acts sort of like an old-fashioned operator. You log on and enter your phone number and the number you want to call. Then your phone rings (scary!), you pick it up, and it rings your friend. The sound quality seemed better than any of the options we’ve discussed so far, and you don’t need any extra equipment, but there are two cons. First, you can talk for three minutes, but then you have to click on the screen every 30 seconds or so to keep the call active, as if you were plugging free nickels into a payphone. Second, if you use the same line to connect to the Internet and talk on the phone, you can talk for only three minutes. But if you’ve got the phone line to spare, it’s one of the best services I’ve seen so far. Thanks, gracious readers, for your advice.