Zfree to be reborn?

A network upgrade at Clear Communications could spell the rebirth of the free ISP, Zfree.

A network upgrade at Clear Communications could spell the rebirth of the free ISP, Zfree.

Clear’s free internet service, was closed off to new members in December 2000 after reaching 250,000 users — those already signed up could continue surfing for free, but no new members were added.

Now, thanks to a new set of IP-enabled switches, Clear is to reconsider opening the doors again.

“The new equipment handles traffic as digital packets, unlike the traditional voice switches on Clear’s network, optimising data call routing and processing,” says spokeswoman Rochelle Lockley in a press statement. That could, she says, lead to the floodgates being reopened. Clear will assess the situation over the “next few months”.

Zfree customers will be the first to use the new technology and will need new phone numbers to dial in to the service. Users in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch should check the Zfree website for the new numbers and how to change their server settings.

The free ISP phenomenon began when Telecom introduced its new numbering scheme 0867 in an effort to avoid paying interconnection charges to Clear. Clear retaliated by signing up thousands of new customers on its old dial-up numbers, effectively making Telecom pay for each new customer. A number of free ISPs started up, all promising longevity and a revenue model based on other forms of income, such as advertising, but one by one they have all dropped away leaving Zfree as the only free ISP in New Zealand. Whether it will again be open for business remains to be seen.

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