Unmetered internet users should check the small print of their service provider's offering or risk being regularly disconnected from the service.
Attracted by promises of free unlimited internet access, consumers could find themselves being disconnected in as little as an hour as ISPs enforce disconnection times to reduce congestion.
Depending on the ISP, consumers could face disconnection from a service even if they are in the middle of a transaction, downloading a file or watching a webcast.
Users of NTL's unmetered ntlworld service, for example, are disconnected after two hours even if they are still using the service. "Customers could leave their system on all the time, so the system disconnects after two hours to ensure the quality of the service is upheld for all our customers," said an NTL spokeswoman.
ISP LineOne and telecoms group Quip currently cut users off after two hours, and will also disconnect after twenty minutes of inactivity. When this happens, users will need to reconnect, and with LineOne's recent congestion problems this may not be as simple as it sounds.
"Some people could leave the connection open, which isn't fair to other users and threatens our ability to offer an unmetered service," said Simon Lubin, marketing director at Quip. The companies have recently increased their bandwidth capacity, and congestion problems have been greatly reduced, Lubin added.
Tiny Online's unmetered service disconnects after one hour, but the company said this has been made clear to its customers. "We accept that this is a restriction to users, but we have made it clear that the service offers an hour connection charge at a time," said Colin Greene, managing director at Tiny Online.
Tiny's service features a timer informing users how much time they have left, allowing them to choose not to start downloading a file with only a few minutes left, said Greene.
"We are very upfront with our customers and welcome feedback," he added. "Some companies' offerings feature a lot of small print, but we are very upfront with our conditions."
Users of VirginNet's unmetered service, currently on trial for 10,000 subscribers, might only be away from their PC for 10 minutes before the system disconnects. Virgin said if a system remains idle for 10 minutes the service will time out, although there is no disconnection if the user is constantly using it.
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