Xtra says it has no plans to follow Clear Net in banning its customers from accessing their mailboxes from another ISP.
Last Friday, Clear Net emailed all customers who it detected had "used free remote access recently" and told them the ability would be withdrawn on February 26 - unless they took up Clear Net's $6.70 monthly Mail+ service or one of the ISP's new Select usage plans.
The email described the decision as "a question of fairness. We think anyone who uses Clear Net's first-rate email services should contribute to the considerable costs associating with maintaining, operating, hosting and transmitting email."
The change shows the flipside of the time-only charging model which helped consumer ISPs such as Clear Net, Xtra and Voyager drive customer growth from 1996. Customers have been free to access their mailboxes from other, cheaper ISPs or from the workplace or even overseas. The ISPs have been obliged in some cases to maintain accounts that attract no revenue at all.
Xtra and Voyager have offered monthly usage plans for some time, but neither has sought to charge customers for the use of their email. Telecom spokesman Glenn Sowry says Xtra has no plans for such a move.
Clear Net's marketing communications manager Ross Inglis says he does not know how many customers are unhappy with the change to its terms, "but I think we did a reasonably good job of explaining it. We explained that there is a very good alternative."
The alternative, three new Select plans, require a monthly commitment, but differ from Xtra's Advance plans, which bring hourly rates down to as low as $1. Monthly commitments range from $26.50 to $51 and offer savings between 11% and 30% on Clear Net's standard hourly rates, which range from $2.25 to $2.95.
The Select plans also include Mail+, which Clear Net says offers "spam protection", vacation messaging and advanced message forwarding.
"We weren't the first to introduce a commitment plan, and it's given us the luxury of being able to understand what our customers want and what the implications are for business," says Inglis.
"It was becoming obvious to us that a small number of customers were [accessing their mail from other locations] and we just don't think that's fair. We think they should pay a reasonable share of the cost of providing the service. The days of something for nothing have gone.
"Although you do get something for nothing if you take one of the Select plans, because you get Mail+."