Has OzEmail taken a quiet beating?

Internet service provider OzEmail may have sustained blows to its subscriber base after sitting in the UUNet bargain bin for more than six months.

After drawn-out takeover efforts from Telstra and internet company eisa, as well as a fleeting affiliation with Murdoch-Packer venture One.Tel, attention is now being drawn away from those companies' foiled attempts and onto OzEmail itself.

Neither OzEmail nor its parent company, WorldCom subsidiary UUNet, would disclose OzEmail subscriber numbers, but ISP industry observers have speculated that the popularity of Australia's second-largest ISP may be dwindling as a result of unsteady ownership.

According to www.consult principal Ramin Mazbani, the gap between OzEmail's subscriber numbers and that of Australia's number-one ISP, Telstra, has broadened since negotiations concerning ownership of the ISP began late last year.

"OzEmail's got a real problem with subscriber numbers," he said, although he was unable to reveal his company's estimate of the number of subscribers. Mazbani said the ISP had not necessarily lost subscribers, but it had simply struggled to attract new users at the same rate as Telstra.

Mazbani believes OzEmail has suffered more from its low advertising and marketing profile, due to an insufficient budget, than from market distrust resulting from the ISP's perennially teetering ownership.

Mazbani qualified that, although www.consult conducts bi-annual reports on subscriber numbers of Australian ISPs, OzEmail numbers are hard to estimate. A significant number of OzEmail subscribers use the ISP on a casual or indirect basis, or simply for old email addresses, Mazbani explained.

UUNet's parenthood has also proven tentative, with rumours circulating the industry that OzEmail was up for sale within months of UUNet's acquisition of the ISP in March 1999.

OzEmail's public relations officer Diana Stanbridge dismissed industry concerns over the ISP's customer retention.

"I don't know where (analysts) get their numbers from," she said. "We're sometimes amazed at what they come up with."

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