Savetz On-Line

Price wars and porn

First Published: Cyberspace Today
Date Published: March 1 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Savetz

Being a denizen of cyberspace just became less expensive - again. The online service price wars are heating up as the major players fight for users' hard-earned dollars. Although the war has been going on for two years, the most recent skirmish started in January, when Prodigy and America Online almost simultaneously dropped their prices. Price is no longer a factor in choosing an online service - now, if you're looking to get online, content is the name of the game. America Online cut its hourly rate from $3.50 to $2.95, with a monthly minimum of $9.95 for 5 hours of usage. Prodigy did likewise, offering an identical pricing scheme.

eWorld followed suit by offering more online time for the same monthly fee. eWorld's $8.95 per month charge now buys four hours of online time, up from two. Additional time was reduced from $4.95 to $2.95 hourly. eWorld also announced cancellation of its surcharge for use during "prime time" (an outmoded concept, since "prime time" in the online world seems to be late in the evening, not during business hours.)

Behind the scenes, eWorld is working on the next version of its Macintosh software. The software, code named Golden Gate, will have improved Internet access (I'm betting the farm that they'll offer newsgroups and gopher a la America Online), as well as multimedia and text-to-speech features. Sounds promising. Windows users will be able to log into eWorld "sometime in 1995," although a firm date for the Windows software hasn't been set.


Not to be lost in the hubbub, CompuServe has joined the fray by reducing its prices too. Connection to the service is now priced at $4.80 per hour, regardless of access speed - a 50 percent drop from the service's previous cost for 14.4KBPS users. At long last, gone are the days when people with fast modems are penalized - CompuServe's pay-for-speed policy was long overdue for an overhaul.

CIS raised the monthly membership fee by $1, to $9.95 - making the service's pricing structure almost identical to its rivals - and added about 30 services to it's "core" features. CIS is trying with some success to shed the image that it's intended primarily for business users who want to pay through the nose for information.

CompuServe is gearing up to test a new online entertainment service. Code named "Reno", CIS says it will provide real-time chatting, Multi-User Dungeons, and graphical multi-player games. Macintosh testing of Reno will begin in early spring, with Windows testing to follow. The new service will be available to all by the end of the year.

Prodigy and the Web

Perhaps the biggest news for cyberspace denizens is that Prodigy now offers graphical access to the Internet's World Wide Web. The first online service to allow it's users to surf the Web, Prodigy scores big points for being the only kid on the block with this feature. America Online has been headed in that direction for a year, but Prodigy took a different tack - rather than first offering newsgroups, gopher and other basic Internet features, they jumped straight for the golden trophy - the Web. So far, only Windows users can access the Web - access for Mac folks is said to be coming soon.

So, Prodigy members - people who don't know a URL from UHF - have started jumping onto the Web at the rate of about 10,000 new users each week, making long-time Internauts and web service providers wonder aloud what this will do to bandwidth and system load on the Internet. I hope Prodigy is educating users about what it means to be on the web, what the Internet is, and why it's a Bad Thing to download a 20-megabyte QuickTime movie from a server in Finland at noon on a Monday.

AOL and Family Values

It seems that the powers that be at America Online has finally discovered that you can talk dirty with a modem. Not only that, but you can send and receive dirty pictures too. Horror! In January, AOL president Steve Case published an open letter to members, complaining of "illegal activity" occurring on his service. Although that's certainly a legitimate concern for all online services, one gets the feeling that he's not just taking about pirated software and sharing of blatantly-illegal child porn images; he's talking about chat rooms featuring dirty talk and those soft-porn GIF images featuring scantily-clad humans.

Perhaps AOL has led you to believe that they've cracked down on this sort of thing. They haven't. A quick trek to the "member rooms" after hours will show a wide variety of diverse lifestyles and interests (rooms have names like MEN 4 MEN STEAMROOM, HOT AND MARRIED, and Hot TVs 4 Hot TV TS. You get the idea.) Checking the file areas for keywords like "skirt" and "xxx" reveals that there's material that isn't suitable for the kiddies. And while most of it is perfectly legal, most of it also violates AOL's "terms of service agreement."

The management may continue to attempt to stop the dirty pictures and sexy talk. Will they succeed? Doubtful. CompuServe couldn't, so they created a separate "adults only" chat area. I'm betting that sooner or later, that's what AOL will do. Whether they know it or not, those late-night dirty-talkers make up a large portion of their income. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Articles by Kevin Savetz