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This month, John Nemerovski writes about his experience with AT&T’s WorldNet Internet service. Should you consider going with AT&T as your Internet Service Provider?
ATTention, please?By John Nemerovski
I recently received an urgent e-mail message from my pal Gino, up in Phoenix. He advised me that AT&T had a limited-time special “One Rate Promo” long-distance calling offer. “It’s not being publicized,” wrote Gino, “so you have to know to ask for it. With this new plan, you pay only ten cents per minute, 24/7/365, on all your long distance calls. Contact AT&T right away, at (800) 222-0300.”
I did. Now all my USA distance telephone calls cost just ten cents per minute, around the clock, regardless of the distance from Tucson, Arizona, where I live.
There is a catch, of course. Since I was previously using MCI for long distance, AT&T offered the new “bait and switch” promo with no strings attached for only six months. Then, if I average more than 100 long distance minutes per month, I’ll be able to have a permanent “One Rate Plus” plan where I pay a monthly $4.95 “service fee” for the privilege of maintaining the ten cent rate. If I make fewer than 100 minutes of calls per month, my recommended plan will be the standard “One Rate” fifteen cents per minute scheme (24/7/365), currently being advertised heavily on television. But if I had previously been using AT&T for long distance, I would have had to pay the $4.95 monthly fee immediately to qualify for ten cent calls. Are you confused yet?
The main reason I’m switching to AT&T has nothing to do with the cost of long distance phone calls. At a recent meeting of TMUG, our Tucson Mac Users Group, many members were full of praise for AT&T’s WorldNet Internet Service (att.worldnet.net), in preference over Starnet, a local provider.
I have been using Starnet (azstarnet.com) for several months, and I’m totally satisfied. Initially, I solicited e-mail recommendations from my fellow TMUGgers regarding their preferred ISP (Internet Service Provider), and Starnet received unanimous raves from the members who responded. At the time, that was good enough for me.
Just the same, I have been reading about WorldNet’s offer of the first five hours of Internet connectivity per month free of charge for AT&T long distance customers. My two motives were: to have six months of ten cent per minute ’round the clock long distance rates, plus simultaneous free use of the WorldNet ISP for five hours per month. Additional hours are billed at $2.50 per. During this trial period, I would decide whether to keep Starnet or switch to WorldNet (and whether or not to continue to use AT&T as my long distance carrier).
The AT&T telephone representative promised to snail me an install CD for WorldNet, and it arrived promptly. The activation and sign up procedures were straightforward and efficient. I registered for my five free monthly hours and logged onto WorldNet. Netscape Navigator version 2.0.2 was installed by default, taking me directly to the informative WorldNet home page. So far so good.
What happened to Starnet? Where did it go? What about the version 3.0 of Netscape I was using? WorldNet’s “setup monkey” moved my FreePPP settings for Starnet into a defunct folder, “Saved Preferences and Files.” I wasn’t prepared, though, to dump Starnet yet, and I needed to have it available.
Here’s where the waters get muddy. During the WorldNet installation, I was advised by the setup monkey to read section 2.4 of the Troubleshooting Text if I wanted to have access to a pre-existing ISP, along with my new WorldNet. I printed out and read the relevant instructions, and was totally confused. The document said:
“The first thing you should do is back up the following into a temporary folder: FreePPP program, Extensions folder, Control Panel folder, and Preferences file.”
I dutifully made hard disk backup copies of my entire Extensions, Control Panels, and Preferences folders, creating a temporary folder of over 50 MB! Then I added copies of both my new WorldNet and old Starnet FreePPP Setups, since the directions didn’t specify which to back up. The instructions continued:
“Once you’ve done that, copy the same files/folders from the AT&T WorldNet Service / Connectivity Files / Saved Preferences and Files folder into the same folder in the System folder. For example, copy the Extensions folder from the Saved Preferences and Files folder into the System folder.”
Huh? You lost me here, pal. I tossed and turned all night, mentallyattempting to perform the necessary procedures. I simply didn’t have a clue as to what to do. The next morning I called WorldNet Macintosh Technical Support, at (800) 400-1447 (press 4, then 2, then wait a few minutes). Lonnie told me “No, you don’t need the entire folders; just the FreePPP items in each folder.” Oh, that’s easy, I thought. Why didn’t they just say so? I dumped the huge temporary backup folder and copied only the few items Lonnie indicated.
I won’t bore you with AT&T’s next set of instructions, but they blew it again, saying Extensions when meaning Control Panel Alias, which totally threw me off track once more. This time Curtis at Customer Service took me patiently, and accurately, through the rest of the directions, most (but not all) of which were in the Troubleshooting Text. I now had both ISPs available to me (theoretically) via WorldNet’s FreePPP Setup. Curtis got me to the point where I actually had to hang up and try to log into either/or Starnet/WorldNet. Here goes, I thought.
Nope. Starnet still wouldn’t accept me. Since AT&T was giving me this service for free, I remained cheerful, if not calm, and called WorldNet Tech Support once more.
This time Rick explained there may be a conflict between WorldNet’s “CHAP” login procedure (whatever that means) and Starnet’s “connection script.” He advised me to manually type in my personal Starnet login name and password into WorldNet’s custom FreePPP Setup Control Panel’s Accounts window. I did it, and finally was able to switch back and forth between WorldNet and Starnet. The procedure has several steps:
1. Mouse to Apple Menu / Control Panels / FreePPP Setup.
2. Near the top, in the “Connect to” dialog, mouse from WorldNet to Starnet.
3. Click on the “Accounts” tab and double click on Starnet.
4. Click on the “General” tab, click the “Open TCP/IP button,” selectConfigurations from the File menu, then double click on Starnet.
5. Close the TCP/IP window, and click on Connect in the FreePPP Setup window to log into Starnet.
Using these steps, I can now switch back and forth between ISPs, in less than a minute. It was a struggle to get to this point, but certainly worth the effort.
Neither ISP has local phone lines capable of utilizing my 33.6 kbps modem’s speed. Starnet runs at 24.4 – 28.8 kbps, and WorldNet runs at 19.6 – 28.8. The difference is insignificant during an actual Internet session, from my perspective. Both services maintain stable connections, and I have only been dumped suddenly from them (“application unexpectedly quit”) a couple of times each.
During initial setup, WorldNet configures Netscape so that (www.worldnet.att.net) is the new default home page. WorldNet’s home page has a firewall, so when using Starnet, I’m locked out of access to the WorldNet home page.
In addition, WorldNet has taken over my Netscape Mail and News Preferences, so I can’t access my Starnet e-mail using Netscape. (There is a work around, using stored Netscape Preferences and a Restart, which I use when absolutely necessary.) Fortunately, Claris E-mailer accomplishes this procedure without any hassle.
Two problems remain. First, AT&T needs to change the Troubleshooting Text immediately to reflect the precise procedure for having more than one ISP available. (The corrections should have been made by the time you read this article.) Second, AT&T needs to provide the latest stable versions of all their Internet software. I’ll explain.
I appreciate that no ISP can ever be totally current with the most recent browser and PPP software, since the applications are updated so often. But AT&T created a dedicated version of both Netscape Navigator 2.0.2 and FreePPP 2.5.1 (yes, you read it correctly), when NN 3.0.1 and FreePPP 2.5.2 were totally stable improvements. WorldNet Tech Support did cheerfully assist me in replacing NN 2.0.2 with my existing version 3.0 of Netscape, but advised me to continue to use their custom FreePPP 2.5.1, without explanation.
AT&T is aggressively establishing a collaboration with Microsoft. MS Internet Explorer soon will be the default browser for WorldNet. Is anyone surprised? Certainly not the developers and satisfied users of Netscape! When you call the advertised telephone number for WorldNet now, (800) 967-5363 ext. IE3, you are told that Explorer for the Mac is not yet available, but will be snailed upon release. Do I smell a whitewash here?
Newbies will never realize that WorldNet is consistently one or more steps behind the most recent Web software releases. AT&T is correct to provide stable applications and control panels, but at what pace will WorldNet Technical Support embrace the most current software developments? I was told that “when versions 3.0 of Navigator and Explorer, and the current FreePPP, are being supported by AT&T, the news and download links will be plastered all over the WorldNet home page.” Is that good enough? I’m not sure. What do you think?
In a few months I will know if my evaluation of AT&T’s bargain telephone rates and ISP freebie offers were worthwhile. In the meantime, I’ll be calling and faxing at ten cents per minute, regardless of the time of day. The telephone plan certainly makes life more straightforward, and less expensive, for me, my family, and my business.
If my WorldNet timed usage averages 13 hours or fewer per month, AT&T’s ISP is a better deal than any unlimited $20 per month provider. At more than 13 hours monthly, an untimed, unlimited billing plan is better value for money. Have I traded watching the clock on my phone calls for watching the clock on my Internet usage? Time will tell.John Nemerovski (firstname.lastname@example.org)