ISPs Jostling for Restless Users

The competition among the America Onlines, EarthLinks and NetZeros of the world is likely to get fiercer following a comScore Networks report last week that suggests one in four Web surfers intends to switch Internet service providers in the next six months.

Of those who expressed a desire for change, 30 percent said they want a faster connection, and 25 percent said they seek a cheaper service.

As a result, observers noted that premium dial-up services will continue to be squeezed from the top and the bottom. “There of course will be winners and losers as the markets continue to shift away from premium dial-up and to discount dial-up or more expensive broadband providers,” said Russ Fradin, evp of corporate development at comScore in Reston, Va.

United Online, for one, has been chipping away at the competition by emphasizing value-priced dial-up access through its NetZero, Juno and BlueLight brands. “We continue to pound the position that you do not need to pay over $20 a month for basic Internet access. And we have made comparisons. We have named names in commercials,” said Brian Woods, evp and chief marketing officer at the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company.

In its latest ads, which star the cast of American Chopper, AOL is attempting to retain and lure other narrowband subscribers by promoting its Top Speed Technology, which speeds up dial-up. For those defecting to broadband, the Dulles, Va.-based Time Warner Internet unit offers high-speed connectivity through providers such as BellSouth and Covad Communications when a user registers for AOL’s premium-content package for $14.95 a month.

Meanwhile, companies such as SBC Communications and Comcast are trying to entice users to broadband by promoting faster download speeds, said Fradin. As of the fourth quarter, comScore reported 36 percent of online users access the Web through a high-speed connection.