- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Here are some questions and answers about how AOL’s changes will affect consumers.

Question: I have dial-up access with AOL. What does this mean for me?

Answer: AOL will still charge $25.90 a month for an unlimited dial-up plan that includes free phone support, though it will add 50 gigabytes of online storage and security features beyond the basic software that just became free. Customers can also choose a $9.95 monthly plan with unlimited access but no storage or enhanced security. Dial-up customers can stop paying AOL altogether by getting dial-up or broadband service through another provider.

Q: I have broadband but I pay extra to AOL for its premium services such as e-mail and parental control. What does this mean for me?

A: You will continue to be billed unless you call AOL to cancel service. AOL promises that its employees no longer will try to push customers to keep paying, a tactic that drew criticism in the past. Those who occasionally need dial-up access, such as when they travel, can sign up for a $9.95 monthly plan with only 10 hours of access but enhanced security.

Some customers who now get AOL-branded service through a cable or phone provider may find it cheaper to switch to a stand-alone offering from that provider. They can call AOL to cancel service, although they may have to call the provider as well to change their plan.

Q: What does this mean for subscribers abroad?

A: The changes are aimed at U.S. customers, although AOL says it won’t stop European and other subscribers from participating in the freebies. However, they may have to download the U.S. version of software or use the English-language Web site.

Q: What does it mean for former subscribers?

A: Those who left AOL within the past two years can access their old accounts using the same passwords. Those who forgot the password can reset it by answering a security question, such as their pet’s name, or providing the credit card they had used for verification.

Q: Wasn’t AOL free before?

A: In late 2004, AOL began moving away from its traditional “walled garden” approach of emphasizing exclusive content, deciding to make most of its news articles, music video and other content available for free on ad-supported Web sites. However, AOL kept many services, including AOL.com e-mail accounts and parental controls, part of the paid offering.

Q: What is becoming free with this strategy shift?

A: Just about everything not already free. Immediately, AOL is making e-mail accounts free, along with its proprietary software for accessing AOL features and its Safety and Security Center offering basic protection from viruses, spyware and other threats. By September, AOL will make parental controls free as well, along with now-premium offerings aimed at kids and teens.

Q: What if I have a CompuServe or Netscape dial-up plan?

A: Although AOL runs both, the changes affect only the main AOL service, so you’ll keep paying for e-mail.

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