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Before You Subscribe to a Free Internet Service

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Free Internet providers offer access to the Web, email and other Internet services at no charge to subscribers. Wireless hotspot and home dial-up options are the most common forms of free access available. However, some limitations may accompany these free Internet services.

Before joining a free service, check the subscription agreement carefully. Consider the possible loopholes and "gotchas" listed below. Also consider using free Internet service as a backup to a commercial provider.

Free Internet Term Limits

Although free Internet service may not cost money initially, the subscription plan may only offer the free service for a limited period of time (e.g., 30 days or 3 months) before charging. Additionally, canceling a service before the end of the free period may incur substantial fees.

Time and Bandwidth Limits

Free Internet access may be restricted to a small number (e.g., 10) hours per month or have a small data transfer (bandwidth) limit. Charges may be incurred if these limits are exceeded, and it may be your responsibility to track your usage.

Internet Performance and Reliability

Free Internet services may run at a slow speed or suffer from dropped connections. Free services may also experience extended downtime or subscriber limits that will prevent you from logging in to the provider for a significant period of time. A free access provider might even discontinue their business without notice.

Limited Internet Capability

Free Internet services often contain built-in advertising banners that appear in the Web browser. Besides being a visual annoyance, these free banners may be constructed technically to prevent other windows on the screen from covering them. This could limit your ability to work with large photos, videos and other multimedia applications on the Internet that would normally occupy the full screen.

Free Internet Privacy

A free Internet service provider may sell your personal information to third parties. Access logs that document the Web sites you visit may also be shared. Providers may require you to provide credit card information, even for free basic service.

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