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10/13/98 -- 11:39 PM

GTE's unlimited surfing heading for a wipeout?
By DOUG STANLEY of The Tampa Tribune 

GTE Internet becomes the latest service provider to impose limits, and some customers aren't happy.

The days of flat-rate, all-you- can-surf access are numbered for GTE Internet customers, and some aren't happy.

Joining a trend among national Internet service providers, GTE Internet will limit dial-up users to 100 online hours a month beginning Nov. 1. Customers who exceed the cap will pay $1 an hour - in addition to their $19.95 monthly fee.

At the same time, GTE will cut fees $10 a month for ISDN subscribers, to $29, but will cap usage at 50 hours. Like its dial- up service, GTE had marketed the faster ISDN access as unlimited.

GTE becomes the latest national Internet service provider - following AT&T WorldNet, IBM's Internet service and others - to cap online hours to discourage heavy users from tying up their networks.

America Online took a different approach, keeping unlimited access but increasing its monthly subscription fee last spring by $2, to $21.95.

``The change will affect only a small portion of our customers,'' GTE spokesman Jim Marzano said. ``The majority of our Internet customers spend between 15 and 75 hours a month online.''

GTE Internet says that 10 percent of its customers account for 65 percent of the total load on its network each month.

Some Tampa Bay-area customers whose present use would put them above the cap and others who would remain below are angry GTE is backing off its promise of unlimited access.

``I use about 150 hours a month,'' said customer Ernie Gmeiner of east Hillsborough. ``I can cut down by 50 hours a month, but it's the principle of the thing. They sold us on unlimited access.''

ISDN subscriber Ron Hossler of Zephyrhills is so mad he's ready to switch providers.

``I don't know who to go to for decent ISDN service in this area,'' he said. ``I've got to try to find another provider. If I can't, I'll have to go back to [dial-up] service.''

Lakeland customer Tammy Robinson said she put a ``boycott GTE Internet'' graphic on her Web site. She removed it, at least temporarily, when GTE sent her a cease-and-desist letter saying that by using the GTE logo she was violating trademark and copyright laws.

``If they want to sell new subscribers 100 hours a month at $19.95, that's fine,'' she said. ``But they sold us unlimited service.''
 


Reach Doug Stanley at dstanley@tampatrib.com or (813) 259-7364.