Prodigy sets limit on free E-mail

November 24, 1990|By Leslie Cauley

Prodigy, an online news and shopping service, has informed members that it would start limiting members to 30 free electronic messages a month starting Jan. 1, --ing lingering hopes among some subscribers that the service may abandon those plans.

"I'm turning in my membership," said Larry Wienner, a Baltimore-based subscriber who had fought

Prodigy's plans to start charging for E-mail.

Mr. Wienner and his online peers launched an electronic boycott of Prodigy's advertisers earlier this year when Prodigy first announced its intention to start charging for E-mail. They bombarded advertisers with E-mail protests and sent messages systemwide urging other members to join their cause.

Protesters had contested Prodigy's plans on the grounds that theservice was marketed and sold as a flat-rate service -- with unlimited E-mail privileges -- and should stay that way. Prodigy costs $12.95, if paid on a monthly basis. If prepaid annually, the rate is $119.40, or $9.95 a month.

Prodigy, the joint venture of Sears and International Business Machines Corp., countered with ahard-line business assessment: Theservice had determined that a small group of heavy E-mail users was sending costs spiraling. Rather than increase subscriber fees for everyone to offset those costs, Prodigy officials decided to limit E-mail usage.

Members who logged onto Prodigy on Wednesday were greeted with an online blurb announcing that the new charges for E-mail would begin Jan. 1, 1991, Brian Ek of Prodigy said yesterday.

Starting Jan. 1, each Prodigy membership will be allotted 30 messages a month. Each additional message will cost 25 cents.

Each Prodigy membership allows up to six users. According to Mr. Ek,30 messages per membership is enough to satisfy the monthly needs of about 97 percent of Prodigy's subscribers.

The idea of unlimited E-mail was a selling point of the service when it was launched in October 1988. But that was back when Prodigy figured most households would use E-mail sparingly, much like they do for long-distance phone services now, Mr. Ek said.

But then a core group of about 40,000 memberships -- about 10 percent of Prodigy's subscriber base -- started treating E-mail more like local phone service instead, Mr. Ek said. With some users routinely sending 1,000 or more messages a month -- one customer topped the list with a staggering 20,000 messages in a single month -- Mr. Ek said Prodigy was forced to make some changes.

Though Prodigy won't be budging from its E-mail plans, it has reconsidered an earlier decision to kick about a dozen subscribers off the system, Mr. Ek said.

The former members, who were dropped for supposedly harassing members and advertisers during the E-mail flap, have been sent letters inviting them to rejoin Prodigy. The former members have also been sent clarifications of existing rules for using the Prodigy service, Mr. Ek said.

"We took a look at our rules and decided a clarification was in order," said Mr. Ek.

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