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When it launched in 1998, NetZero was a pioneer in that it was the first provider of a free dial-up internet service. As a result, it had one million users within six months and the model was soon copied by several other firms. The company responded by suing them for infringing its patents (the american way) and, when the dotcom boom turned bad in 2001, it took over many of its competitors as they went bankrupt. The various businesses now trade under the holding company name of United Holdings, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
If you want to see what the company has available, the web address is www.netzero.net, although www.netzero.com redirects to there. The original free NetZero internet service is still on offer, although you are limited to ten hours usage per household per month and you will have to put up with adverts. However, it does come with no contractual obligations and includes email, video mail and video chat. The software download takes around two minutes and there is no extra equipment needed, so you can get started quickly. Reliable connections through thousands of access numbers nationwide are promised, although you need to select carefully the number you use to avoid long distance call charges.
If ten hours a month isn't enough or you need something better, there are now other options available. The first step up from the free service is a Platinum unlimited dialup service that incurs a monthly fee but has no time restriction or adverts and provides spam and email virus protection. Pay a little more and you'll get the Hispeed service (previously known as '3G'), which adds anti-virus protection and a pop-up blocker. More importantly, it provides faster internet access through compression technology, pre-fetching certain files and using the PC's cache memory to avoid unnecessary downloads. All these versions do, of course, still attract phone charges and are available for free NetZero download.
If you're wanting something faster that doesn't tie up your phone line, the company's DSL broadband is their top of the range offering. It comes through an arrangement with Verizon and so is only available in that company's service regions. You can check availability by entering your phone number and doing a search. If you qualify for the service, it comes with everything available for the other products plus a DSL modem and a dial-up access account as backup.
Various optional extras are available for all the internet services. These include security products, tune-up tools and entertainment packs. The website also has links to other sites, including the United Online holding company site and Juno Internet Service (www.juno.com), which is one of the acquired competitors and has a remarkably similar site. There's also FreeInternet.com, which has various freebies on offer.
The company does get above average reviews, with some customers full of praise and others criticizing the performance and customer service. In general, those using the free service seem to be understandably less critical than those who pay for the product. †