Clear Net makes moves on price and service

Clear Net has made its most significant move in the ISP market this year, announcing a package of email services and new pricing plans. The company's new Select plans still fall short of the bulk-buy plans offered by Xtra and Ihug, but they come bundled with Mail+, a new service developed in-house to offer full remote access to Clear Net email accounts, and spam protection via the controversial MAPS Realtime Black Hole List.

Clear Net has made its most significant move in the ISP market this year, announcing a package of email services and new pricing plans.

The new Mail+ package costs $6.70 a month and offers customers the ability to receive and send mail on Clear Net accounts from any location. It also includes "advanced mail forwarding," allowing messages to be sent on to as many as five other people, and spam protection via adherence to the MAPS Realtime Black Hole List, which lists IP addresses known to relay junk email.

Mail+ is also bundled with Clear Net's first range of bulk-buy plans, which go under the name Select, which offers discounts on the ISP's three standard rates - $2.95 per hour from 7am to 4pm, $2.50 4pm-midnight and 2.25 on the graveyard shift.

Select Casual offers customers $30 worth of time online for $26.50; Serious Serious provides $50 of access for $38; and Select Power provides $75 of time for $51. For the popular 4pm-midnight slot, this equates to $2.20, $1.90 and $1.70 per hour respectively.

This is still some way from Xtra's $45 Advance 50 plan or Ihug's $45 flat-rate Diamond Account, but Clear's emerging business marketing manager Claire Lambourne points out that the ISP is "offering our customers … a genuine added-value service in Mail+.

"Our customers are telling us they want reliable access, top-of-the-line customer service and innovative products. And that's what Clear Net is concentrating on, rather than price alone."

The remote access feature in Mail+ will allow customers to use their home accounts from work, or from any other Internet connection - something over which other ISPs, including Xtra, have sweated.

The easiest way to provide remote access is to leave SMTP servers open, allowing mail to be relayed from anywhere. But few ISPs do so now, because open mail relays are almost inevitably abused by spammers, who bounce junk email off them from anywhere in the world.

Clear Net's Olof Olsson says the ISP has developed its own technique to allow remote access while preventing "promiscuous relaying - but we don't really want to reveal how we're doing it, because it's a competitive advantage."

SMTP servers simply left open to spam relaying can end up on the MAPS RBL, which Clear Net is using as the basis of the spam protection in Mail+. Some local ISPs, such as Manawatu Internet Services, faithfully employ the blacklist, while others regard it as too draconian.

Clear Net customers would find their spam protection means them missing legitimate mail from a server which has found its way onto the MAPS list. Olsson says use of the RBL feature will be optional - the default will be for it to be off - and customers will be directed to a Web page explaining the implications.

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