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So how good is CallNet 0800?

Our man Tim goes three rounds with the latest free Net access offering

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Review Sometimes saying the simplest things can leave you tongue-tied and lost for words. Anyone who's ever struggled with "I love you", "sorry" or "no I won't have another if it's all the same, I said I'd be back over an hour ago... oh, go on then, just a small one" will know what I mean. The same is true of trying to assess the performance of CallNet 0800, the toll free dial-up Internet service backed by telco North American Gateway that launched in Britain four weeks ago. For unlike others that have gone before it, CallNet 0800 does exactly what it says it does. Simple, I know, but compared to the track record of some ISPs, CallNet 0800's achievement is quite remarkable. You dial in like any other ISP, log on to the Net and do your business. The only difference is that I don't get charged for making that local-rate phone call. Although I've never stayed logged on for more than an hour at a time. I use it extensively during the day, and only occasionally during the weekend and late into the evening. Nor have I tried to download large files or play games with some nutter in Milwaukee. No doubt those with different Net habits will and who've tried the service will have their own spin on things. I have, though, gone about my everyday working life, which revolves around the Net. And, having used the service for the last three weeks, I can find no distinguishable difference between CallNet 0800 and my subscription ClaraNet account. I've yet to encounter an engaged tone when I log on; I haven't been kicked off for any apparent reason; the service doesn't grind to a halt at peak times. In fact, the service is what any Net user would expect... should expect. One niggle is that it kicks you off automatically after five minutes of inactivity, but I can live with that. The only major snag I've had is sending and receiving my ClaraNet e-mail using CallNet 0800. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's a nuisance to keep switching between the two but there you go, if I didn't have something to bitch about then I'd really smell a rat. And after all, it is free -- and bearing in mind this could cut my phone bill by two thirds I'm certainly not about to complain. Just to make sure, I quizzed CallNet 0800 to see if the account I had was on a different dial-up number or souped up in anyway to give journalists a preferential service. A spokesman assured me this wasn't the case. So where does that leave Net user in Britain looking to cut the cost of their Net access? Significantly further up the creek than before thanks to being handed a paddle by CallNet 0800. Of course, I can only speak for the service itself. I didn't have to go through the tiresome registration process, which was swamped within hours of going live, to obtain my account. Nor have I used CallNet 0800's 30 per cent-off phone calls service either. But from what I have seen, it works -- for the time being at least. There, I've said it. ® Want to add your two-penneth worth? Then do so on The Register's online forum

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