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Net Surfers Pay for Service

One of China's largest Internet content and service provider, www.263.com, will stop its free email service today and start charging users.

"With certain charges, our customers will use safer and faster email services in our paid email boxes," said Huang Mingshen, company president.

The website's registered email users surpassed 20 million at the end of last year.

The company's decision to end free email was preceded by decisions at Sina.com and 163.com to provide free email service but with a much smaller storage volume.

Statistics showed that only 9.5 per cent of 263.com's users agreed to accept being charged for email, while 3.8 per cent turned to other services that charge.

The rest were forced to change email addresses to other Internet services.

The move has drawn many criticism from users.

Huang said the users who left would not hurt his company's bottom line since his company did not make money off the free email service to begin with.

"Supporting those users takes millions in investment each year, and we can now save such expenditures," the president said.

The company's major income comes from Internet connection services, Huang said.

Zhou Hong, manager of 3721.com Internet content service company, does not agree with 263.com's decision to charge email users.

"You should find ways to make money from company users, not the ordinary Internet surfers," said Zhou, whose company is now enjoying a 20 per cent rise in monthly income. "If users are forced to pay for common services, they will escape and find free services on other websites."

Zhang Weiying, a Peking University professor, warned it might be too early for any Internet company to launch a full-scale service that charges users since so many others still offer the service for free.

"Still, I believe the trend is to charge eventually," Zhang said. "More and more people will gradually accept paying for email services."

(China Daily May 21, 2002)

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