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Are the days of free e-mail             service      over?           

So enjoy the free e-mail service as long as it lasts as recent developments indicate the days of free e-mail service are drawing to a near

By Syed M. Aslam
Aug 13 - 19, 2001

Just a month ago the question would only be able to draw a blank stare akin to "are you serious?" However, the announcement to close its free e-mail service and replacing it with a paid one by a popular website, usa.net, resulted in speculations that both Yahoo, the world's most popular search engine and Hotmail, the most used free e-mail service, would soon follow in the steps of the usa.net. The announcement by 123india.com, an Indian portal, to start charging its customers for e-mail services later on only seemed to cement the speculations.

Since then the tens of millions of free e-mail users of Yahoo and Hotmail across the world including Pakistan, a majority of them comprising cost conscious students and individuals, have been restless. For many of them the withdrawal of free e-mail services meant digging deeper into their pockets to remain in touch digitally.

Like many developed countries the speculations of end of free e-mail service have a far reaching effect in Pakistan which houses a large number of free e-mail users. The usa.net has recently announced that it would start charging its customers for e-mail services from end of this month and it has sent notices to them to that effect. The speculations were strengthened further when an Indian portal, 123india.com, said that it was closing down its free e-mail services as well.

While the creator of Hotmail Sabeer Bhatia, an Indian national who sold it to Microsoft for $ 400 million in 1997, has tried to soothe the fears that Yahoo and Hotmail would not start charging for their services as they use their free e-mail service to promote products on online. This help them to derive numerous benefits the biggest being making a windfall from advertisements promoting products and sales. This in other word means that free e-mail service is beneficial for both Yahoo and Hotmail, which helps Microsoft to derive immense benefits to promote its products.

Backing his argument by statistics, Sabeer said that 43 per cent or 150 million of the internet users worldwide are using Hotmail in addition some one million new e-mail accounts are opened on Yahoo each month. Enjoying such an envious base of users both Yahoo and Hotmail would never allow them to start charging fee for their e-mail services. Both Yahoo and Microsoft benefits from the large base of their respective users to advertise products and it would hardly make any sense for them to start charging a fee for e-mail service.

The idea of charging e-mail service was also rejected by head of Yahoo India, Deepak Chandnani adding that there are some 15 million Yahoo users in India alone. However, Sabeer Bhatia seemed to have misjudged Microsoft as Hotmail users have reportedly received intimation informing them about the closure of free e-mail service by the company.

Core Business

The general manager of local ISP Cybernet, Ansar-ul-Haque, said that the closure of free e-mail service by the usa.net should not be equated with that of Yahoo as the core business of the two differs significantly. Unlike usa.net Yahoo's core business has never remain restricted to e-mail but rather as a content-based search engine, and the most widely used at that. He also attributed the usa.net's decision to start charging for e-mail service on purely financial reasons, the foremost being its diminishing advertising revenues like many other dot coms in the USA and to restructure it to attract e-mail business from the corporate sector.

On the other hand, Yahoo enjoying the reputation of the most widely used search engine globally has no such problem. However, he said that Yahoo is considering a client model based on excess. AOL, a popular digital bulletin board has already introduced the idea of BOA (Bring Own Access) to get to its contents for a monthly fee of $ 10. If you like to have the access as well as the content, AOL charges a flat monthly fee of $ 20.

Ansar said that there are over 400 free e-mail services in the world including Yahoo, Netscape, Hotmail. The closure of free e-mail service by usa.net due to its very own reasons does and should not reflect on the future of other free-mail services as much depends on an individual dot com.

Asked if the closure of free e-mail service by the usa.net would mean any benefit for the local dot coms or ISPs, Ansar said that the concept of free e-mail service has yet to take root in Pakistan. The withdrawal of free e-mail service by usa.net and Hotmail would not benefit them in the least as majority of free e-mail accounts secondary, are accounts meaning additional e-mail address besides a regular one. He disclosed that except for his ISP, Cybernet and another one, Digicom no one provides e-mail services in the country, either free or paid.

Bandwidth

Agreeing that e-mail is a value-added IT service he said that providing free e-mail service is just not possible as it would require high bandwidth in Pakistan which is already reeling from low bandwidth. In addition, the local ISPs can not afford the cost to offer free e-mail service. However, he disclosed, that ISP Cybernet and another one Digicom do offer a paid e-mail service. Cybernet charges Rs 750 a year for e-mail service irrespective of the ISP service one is using unlike Digicom which offers it as a part of its ISP package, he added.

So enjoy the free e-mail service as long as it lasts as recent developments indicate the days of free e-mail service are drawing to a near.