Picking an ISP

Dear Diary,

I’m looking to make an intelligent, informed choice in picking my Internet service provider. OK, OK, I know there are over 60 million people ahead of me who’ve already chosen their ISPs -- so I’m not exactly an early adopter. I’m just taking my time to wade through all the confusion, that’s all.

1000 free hours of AOL! What a deal! Let’s see — if I use their free access at a rate of 2 hours a day, that’ll get me 500 days (or roughly a year and four months). Seems like plenty of time to check out all the AOL channels, play around with email and instant messaging, even read through a few hundred penis enlargement ads.

But talk about your geeks bearing gifts —- the thousand (thousand!) free hours come with a boundary: they’re only good for 45 days, which works out to 22 hours and 13 minutes of AOL a day. So if I use all my 1000 hours in 45 days, it’ll leave me just one hour and 47 minutes a day to eat, sleep, watch ‘Six Feet Under’, and make my diary entries.

Similarly, Earthlink’s Internet access ads also feature the “1000 hours free*” offer -- but notice there’s an asterisk after the word ‘free’. Strangely, none of their ads define just what the asterisk means, and neither does the Earthlink Web site. Should I be concerned? And what if that asterisk commits me to something weird lurking in the fine print, something like “* Free offer valid only if subscriber becomes Zoroastrian”?



That annoyingly undefined asterisk also shows up in Microsoft Network’s ads: “MSN: The reliable alternative to AOL. Try it for free*.” MSN’s website contains information about “Internet access deals”, one of which offers $50 back after three paid months. Is that what the asterisk refers to? Does it mean I’m getting their service for free over that time? Or what?

And MSN’s slick new campaign features the tagline ‘More useful everyday.’ Not to get too picky, but if Microsoft has gone to all the trouble of using a tagline, shouldn’t they make correct use of the English language? The word ‘everyday’ means commonplace, ordinary, mundane, unremarkable. So the way it’s written, MSN’s slogan says “More useful mundane,” which only makes sense if you’re from the planet Remulac. (Apparently what MSN means to say is ‘More useful every day’, indicating its increasing usefulness as time goes by.)

Finally, NetZero Platinum advertises itself as “1/2 the price of AOL”. But if AOL costs $21.95/month and NetZero’s price is $9.95, NetZero isn’t 1/2 the price of AOL — it’s 45%. Hey, I’m no copywriter, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “NetZero Platinum: 9/20ths the price of AOL”?

Yours as always,
An Andy Rooney-like person

-- Michael Kubin is co-CEO of Evaliant, one of the web's leading sources for online ad data.

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