America Online has entered the low-priced internet service provider market with Netscape-branded service costing users around $10 a month.
Customers can get the Netscape unlimited internet access service for just $1 a month until 1 March, after which the price will go up to $9.95 a month. The service includes nationwide access, personalised e-mail addresses for customers and a search service powered by Google.
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AOL also offers unlimited dialup access for $19.95 a month or $199 a year under the CompuServe brand. It also sells a $23.90-a-month unlimited dialup service that comes with AOL 9.0 Optimized, a collection of enhancements such as e-mail, instant messaging and exclusive content.
Those enhancements are also available for $14.95, along with five hours of dialup access, for customers buying their own broadband connections. A package with a broadband connection, called the AOL for Broadband-Cable/DSL Plan, costs $54.95.
The introduction of the Netscape service indicates that AOL recognises the two basic kinds of internet users: those who want high speed and those looking for the lowest price, said Marcel Nienhuis, an analyst at The Radicati Group.
"I think AOL is being slightly outmatched on their prices by MSN," Nienhuis added. Microsoft's unlimited MSN 8 Dial-Up Internet Service costs $9.95 a month for the first six months and $21.95 a month after that. There are also free ISPs that are supported by advertising, but many users do not want to look at the ads, he admitted.
Consumers, especially first-time internet users, also are looking for an easy-to-use portal to the internet with personalised content, an area in which Netscape is well known, said Nienhuis. AOL, on the other hand, has become better known for its communications tools, such as AOL Instant Messenger. he believed the company did not want to blur the AOL brand by adding another service.
Netscape was the first widely commercialised web browser, beginning in 1994. Netscape Communications was sold to AOL in 1998.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service