“Low Cost” Internet Access Can Really Add Up

October 24th, 2011

There are many considerations when it comes to choosing an Internet service provider – type (cable, dial-up, DSL, or satellite), speed, price, hardware needed, reliability, and level of support. When looking for home Internet service, the most important thing to do is to read the fine print.  All those splashy ads or telemarketing calls for low cost Internet service come with conditions, which might end up costing you a bundle (pun intended).

Let’s take a look at an example:

The picture above could be a modern Norman Rockwell – an adorable family all snuggled around…umm…their laptop, surfing the net for the super low price of $14.95 a month.  Oh, scratch that – it’s not really $14.95 because they’re on month 13 of Internet service so it’s really $43 a month plus taxes and fees.  In fact, they never got Internet service for $14.95 because that required that they have additional service (phone, for example) through AT&T, so they really paid $24.95 a month.  Plus, there’s the modem they had to buy for $100 and the pesky activation fee of $36, which means that their effective rate was actually $36.28 a month for the first year.  To top it off, the discounted rate is a credit, which apparently takes 1 or 2 billing cycles to appear.  If they ended up canceling before the year was up because then they would have owed a $150 cancellation fee, and they’d just have to eat the cost of the modem and activation fee.

Here’s another example:

Free Internet service!  Who could beat that?  But if you see an Asterisk (*), pay attention, because you’ll see this in the fine print:

Please note that, depending on the numbers you choose, your location, and your calling plan, you may incur long distance or toll charges in excess of your local service charges on your telephone bill. For a list of access numbers and their locations, click here. To find out whether or not you will incur any charges, and if so, the amounts of such charges, please contact your local telephone company. Live telephone technical support is available for a fee of $1.95/min ($2.95 CDN/min in Canada). You are responsible for all telephone charges and any technical support charges incurred. Service not available in all areas. See Terms of Service for complete details.

So free isn’t free after all.  You may have to pay long distance charges.  You also have to pay for customer support.  And that isn’t all – you actually have to visit the “Terms of Service” for complete details.  You can take a look for yourself here.

OK, so your e-mails will feature banner ads.  You can probably live with that.  But look at the rest.   In order to get the free service, you have to agree to let NetZero collect information about you (including the websites you visit), share it with others, answer surveys and questionnaires, send you advertisements, and download software from other companies to your computer.  That’s quite an outlay when you consider your privacy and security.  All of this for a measly 10 hours of slow-as-molasses dial-up service.

Moral of the story: That amazing low cost or free offer may not be what you think it is.  Our advice to you when shopping for Internet service is always calculate total costs, watch out for the fine print, and make sure you understand all the terms and conditions before you make your decision.

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We don’t really mean what we just said. You need to find me (if you can) in the very small print at the bottom of the page and learn about what we really meant but didn’t say before the asterisk.

Sometimes termed “mouse print” or, more benignly, “disclosure language”, and presented in miniscule font. It is there to take back every enticing offer made in the ad.

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