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Before you sign up with a free ISP service, be sure to check out the access numbers available in your dialing area. Most free ISPs have only a few numbers in large city areas. Also, an ISP may list an access number as local to a number of cities and towns within the state. You may want to check with your phone company to ensure that the access number you'll be using is indeed local to you.
The old adage, "You get what you pay for," still applies today, especially to free ISP services. Granted, a few local, and a couple of national companies, such as Juno and NetZero, still offer free, limited access, but most have many restrictions. You may want to sign up for one of these services as a backup ISP, but it isn't recommended that you make a free ISP your primary provider.
Your free ISP service may be free only to a point. Many free ISP providers, like NetZero will give you 10 hours a month free before charging you additional money for additional time. Be sure to read the contract before you sign it. Additionally, you can keep track of your time with PC Timer http://www.buffalosoftware.net/pctimer.htm
Many free ISP services give customers access to banks of slower modems. These older modems will connect you to the Internet, but at slower speeds than you may be accustomed. Other connectivity issues that you may encounter include drop-offs, which are disconnects from the modem, and bursts, in which the connection speed can vary wildly. Many free internet service providers have no technical support, so you're on your own. Others will charge you for each support call.
A common limitation of a free ISP service is the number of email addresses you're given. Typically, you'll get only one, using their domain. Moreover, some free ISPs do not allow you access to their SMTP, which means that you can't use your own email client, like Outlook Express or Eudora to send mail. This feature is typically disabled to keep spammers from using these free services to send mail.