ISP finder offers alternative to bit caps

Inspired by the growing furor over bit caps and the incumbents that love them, a new ISP-listings Web site is offering disgruntled surfers rated alternatives and independent providers a low-cost marketing tool.

Though just 10 days old,

has already received sign-ups from 32 ISPs, which together serve 900 cities in Canada’s 10 provinces, and is averaging 650 user visits per day, according to the site’s CEO, Bob Carrick. The site is free for both ISPs looking to list their services and to individuals looking to find or rate an ISP.

“”A lot of people on the Internet are really looking to find an alternative so they don’t get hit with the extra service charges,”” said Carrick, who also serves as vice-president of ADSL operations and policy for the Residential Broadband Users’ Group.

The “”extra service charges”” refer to Bell Canada’s plans to institute download caps on its Sympatico DSL service. Every 100MB beyond a subscriber’s download limit will soon cost subscribers $0.79. Carrick is convinced Rogers Communications Inc. will soon follow with a cap strategy for its Internet-through-cable service.

With the large players looking to limit high-speed access, Carrick figures a Web site listing alternative providers has a special utility for Canada’s broadband users (about 50 per cent of the country’s online population).

With a few clicks, prospective residential or business subscribers can see the providers that service their area, the type of services they provide (dial-up, DSL, cable, wireless, etc.) and whether they offer usenet access and Web space and whether they allow servers. Prospective and current users can also rate ISPs on a number of criteria and view overall ratings for ISPs.

For independent ISPs, the site serves to level the provider playing field, Carrick said, as it allows ISPs to list themselves at no charge and presents registered ISPs to prospective customers in alphabetical order.

“”It’s really hard for them to compete with a telco or cable company,”” Carrick says of independent ISPs. “”We feel this site allows them to compete.””

But one independent ISP president thinks may be more of a hindrance than a help to smaller providers.

“”There’s no way to control this thing,”” said Ashok Kalle, president of Toronto’s Pathway Communications Inc. “”If I wanted to badmouth my competition, I would have 60 employees log in from home and give a bad review.””

Indeed, though monitors IP addresses to ensure a user doesn’t review the same ISP more than once, visitors to the site can rate ISPs they have never used, from cities they don’t live in. Carrick countered that the site’s administrators can see where votes are coming from and said early results confirm his faith in the honesty of the online community.

Still, Kalle feels people will only bother to submit a review if and ISP’s service stands out as being extremely good or bad, and noted the site will only be of use to subscribers looking to switch providers, as newcomers won’t be online to search the site. He said there are plenty of ISP lists available online and in free computer publications, and at any rate said he doubts the efficacy of Web sites and media advertising in generating new customers.

“”One of things I’ve noticed is that word of mouth is extremely important; this has been my experience with the residential sales community,”” he said. “”If I were to look for an ISP, I’d go to newsgroups.””

While it may not be the only listing of domestic providers, will within a week be offering a competitive analysis service allowing ISPs to see how competitors are faring on the site as well as the kind of services and geographic areas visitors to the site are inquiring about.

“”It allows an ISP in real time to see what cities are being searched for, what services are being searched for, what prices are being searched,”” Carrick said.

He said this added service will cost ISPs somewhere under $1,000 per year. That revenue coupled with banner advertising income should make the site profitable within three months, Carrick said.

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