At time of press, two of the five free ISPs had not actually commenced connecting their users, but both were planning to do so by the time you read this (Hop On and Go Connect), so it remains to be seen if they will make good their promises. Free ISPs are new to the Australian Net world. Their future is uncertain and entirely dependent on the advertisers that use them to promote their products and services. On the plus side, sheer discounts of scale are making telecommunications and bulk connection costs cheaper for ISPs as the Net boom continues. Coupled with the growth in Net advertising, this should help keep free ISPs on the scene. If, on the other hand, these free services are monopolised by poverty-stricken uni students, kids and others who have no money to spend, there will be no returns for advertisers and the well will dry up.
Speaking to the owners of some of these new free ISPs, I got the impression there is a certain "wait and see how it goes" approach to their services. The way people adopt these free services and what they do with them will map out the future for free ISPs. For now, though, take advantage of them: they are a great way to try out the Net without running up expensive bills, and can help you reduce your existing ISP charges if you have an account. If you are going to buy something online, using a free ISP will help keep Net costs down for you and others, too. The Net started as a free, self-governed network for everyone - perhaps it can stay that way?