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Consumer Tips

Unlimited Access

"Unlimited Access" is NOT the same as dedicated access, a continuous 24x7 connection.

It is a common practice among dial-up Internet service providers to use the term "Unlimited Access" in their marketing tactics. However, if you attempt to stay continuously connected for an entire month, your account will most likely be terminated for excessive usage!

Unlimited Access does NOT mean you can stay connected for unlimited hours each month! Most dial-up service providers impose monthly limits, which is usually dictated by the ISP's contract with their backbone network provider(s).

Some ISPs clearly state the maximum number of hours you can use each month. Other ISPs aren't so forthright about usage limits. Is it dishonest or deceptive for an ISP to promote "unlimited access", yet impose monthly limits? Maybe, but not really, if you understand how ISPs have defined unlimited access since the birth of the Internet.

Internet service providers define "unlimited access" as the ability to access any Web site at any time. Unfortunately, most consumers do not understand the meaning of unlimited access, as defined by ISPs. In the early 90’s, before commercial ISPs such as AOL became widely popular, dozens of community FreeNets provided free online connectivity via the TELNET protocol. There were many access limitations. Most FreeNets did not provide access to other FreeNets. TELNET users were often limited to the information resources provided by their local FreeNet. Hence, emerging commercial (pay for access) service providers promoted their service as "unlimited access", providing the ability to access any site available on the Internet.

Carefully read an ISP's legal terms for usage limits, which may include:

Read and understand an ISP's contractually binding legal statements (Terms of Service, User Agreement, etc.) BEFORE signing up. Contact the ISP if you have questions.

Dial-Up Access Numbers

AVOID EXCESSIVE PHONE CHARGES!  Contact your local phone service provider BEFORE you change dial-up access numbers. Confirm the new number is charged to your phone bill as a local call. Unexpected phone bill charges is the most common problem reported by dial-up Internet users.

Although an access number may be in your area code or located in your general geographic region, it may not necessarily be a local number. You may incur substantial telephone charges if you choose an access number that is not covered by your local calling plan.

Online Shopping Safety
Top 10 Tips

#1 Pick a Card - Just One Card
  Using just one credit card when buying online helps you track your purchases. Use a card with a low credit limit to lower your risk. Don't use an ATM or debit card.
#2 Know the E-business
  Use only reputable e-businesses with a street address and phone number, so you can contact them directly with your questions.
#3 Read the Privacy Policy - Big Browser is Watching
  Don't assume you're anonymous. Web sites can track your browsing activities. Read the e-business's privacy policy before you type in any personal information. Look for opportunities to "opt-out" of letting the company send you marketing communications or share your personal information with others.
#4 Lock In Security
  When buying online, look for an unbroken lock symbol in the status bar on your Web browser and "https" at the beginning of the Web site address. This means your personal information is encrypted or scrambled so no one can read it during transmission.
#5 Avoid E-Voyages of No Return
  Before you buy, review the company's return policy, product warranty and delivery information provided on the Web site. Call the company directly if you have further questions. 
#6 Don't Lose Your Sense of Identity
  Think twice before providing personal information such as your Social Security number, which can be the key that opens the door to identity theft. If you provide personal information, check that the Web site address starts with "https" and your browser displays the lock symbol.
#7 Kids Are Consumers Too
  Children should check with a parent before giving out personal or family information online. Parents should talk to kids about privacy issues. Make the Internet a family affair.
#8 Keep a Paper Trail
  Remember to keep a record of all online transactions.
#9 Can't Get No Satisfaction?
  If you don't get what you paid for, contact the e-business. If you're not satisfied, call your credit card company and the Department of Consumer Affairs.
#10   If It Sounds Too Good to be True...
  Say "scram" to scams by steering clear of get-rich-quick pitches and false advertising claims. A slick-looking site could be legit or bogus, so don't judge a company by the appearance of their Web site.

Being Frank About Search Engine Rank

You're using your favorite search engine, ready to find the most appropriate sites for your needs. You type in your search terms, and up comes a list of the most relevant sites, right? Not necessarily, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal government's consumer protection agency.

Often, search engines look for your search term within the web pages they've collected and indexed. The results reflect the search engine's determination of how relevant the site's content is to your inquiry. But some search engines will rank sites higher in your results if the site pays a fee, regardless of its relevance to your terms. FTC officials say it's a savvy surfer who knows how search results are sorted and ranked. It can make a difference in which search engines you choose to use and how you interpret the results.

If you use Internet search engines, the FTC wants you to know that:

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 or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.