Free ISPs at odds, head to court

NetZero is suing Juno Online Services for patent infringement.

NetZero claims that Juno's on-screen window -- which is called The Juno Guide and is used to display ads separate from a subscriber's browser -- is similar to NetZero's ZeroPort on-screen window, which NetZero has patented.

The suit was filed December 26, 2000 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Both NetZero and Juno provide free Internet access service to consumers. Users are not required to pay a monthly subscription fee because the services are supported by advertising. (Users are essentially barraged constantly with ads.)

While free Internet access services are generally not used by businesses, many individual users set up free accounts for back-up purposes, or maybe even to check sports scores while in the office, for example.

NetZero claims that Juno's ad window is "nearly identical" to the ad window described in NetZero's patent. The company also states that this feature differentiates NetZero from other ISPs and provides a significant competitive edge for the company.

While NetZero may have a legal case against Juno, the issue makes me wonder about the ISP's priorities. Delivering ads to users should not be the company's significant edge. Sure, ISPs such as NetZero and Juno make the majority of their revenue from advertisements. But shouldn't the ISPs be more concerned about delivering reliable services? Regardless of how well an ISP can pop up ads on a customer's screen, if the service is slow, no one will be looking at those ads anyway.

This story, "Free ISPs at odds, head to court" was originally published by Network World.

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