and Go Seek: Finding the Disclosures in "Free"
Internet Service Offers
probably seen the ads for "free" Internet service trial periods. Maybe you've
even received a CD-ROM in the mail that promises hundreds of hours of free Internet
If you're in the market for Internet service, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants
you to know that some "free" offers may end up being high cost, long-term items.
That's because important restrictions and conditions on these offers are not always
disclosed clearly or conspicuously.
Most offers for "free" Internet service are valid for only one month. At the
end of the "free" month, many providers automatically sign you up for their
service, unless you cancel at the end of the free month. Unfortunately, you may not know
that you have to cancel because some service providers hide this information - or don't
tell you how to cancel should you want to.
Costs add up in other ways, too. For example, if you sign up for service and the
Internet service provider (ISP) doesn't offer a local phone number for you to dial in to,
you'll have to pay long distance telephone charges to access the Internet. Some ISPs offer
a "toll free" (800, 888 or 877) number to connect to the Internet. The FTC has
found that some consumers have been charged five or six dollars an hour to use a
"toll free" number.
FTC officials caution consumers to ask the ISP some key questions about their service
and related conditions before using any "free" offers.
- Does the free access to the Internet last longer than one month? Offers for an
advertised 500 free hours of Internet service in one month would require you to be online
for more than 16 hours a day to use all the free hours in a month.
- When does the one month of free service start? When you sign up? When you start using
- Does the ISP automatically subscribe you to their service at the end of the free trial
period? Do you have to cancel before the end of the free trail period to avoid being
charged for service?
- How do you cancel service? Can you cancel online or by calling the service provider's
- Is there a local phone number for you to use to access the Internet? When you get the
number to dial from the ISP, ask your local phone company if it's a local or long distance
number. Make sure the back-up phone number you choose is local, too. If you have to call
long distance for Internet service, chances are you will rack up big charges.
- If you sign up for service, are you committing to paying for the service for a year?
Longer? Some ISPs require you to agree to pay for their service for at least one year and
may charge a fee to cancel the service before your subscription has ended.
- If you sign up for service, when are you billed each month? If you decide to cancel
service, you may want to do so before your billing date so you don't incur a monthly
charge for service you don't plan to use. Remember that ISPs bill you before you
use the service.
- If you cancel your service, does the ISP send you a notice? Get verification (e.g.
cancellation number, email or letter) that your account has been canceled and check your
next credit card statement to make sure you aren't still being billed by the ISP.
If you think you've been misled about an offer of free Internet service, contact the
Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER