CAN you give some advice regarding Internet services? Some companies are charging a high price, but others could charge 50 per cent lower. Why? As a consumer, what are the criteria to choose an Internet service? JOHN MOK Hong Kong The cheaper services include the ones closed down by the Government in March for operating without a Public Non-exclusive Telecommunications Service (PNETS) licence. Most of these services were connecting to the Internet through local leased lines linked to another provider with a leased line to the United States. The cost of a local leased line is, obviously, only a fraction of the cost of a leased line to an overseas location. As such, these 'piggy backers' were able to offer much cheaper services than their bigger brothers. If anything, the PNETS licensing scheme is expected to close this disparity. All PNETS licence holders are supposed to pay Hongkong Telecom $5.40 an hour in usage time for each telephone line connected to their services, a cost that when incurred will be passed on to users. However, for reasons unexplained by Hongkong Telecom, these charges are yet to be levied. According to sources, Telecom has told these service providers that as long as they do not increase the number of lines their services use, they will not be charged the PNETS fee. The moment they want new lines, all their existing lines and the new ones will be changed to '300' numbers which will allow Telecom to bill them accurately. A strange situation, no doubt, but such is the nature of the Hongkong Telecom beast, and in this one case it suits the average user. The previously licensed service providers paying the full price to Telecom must be frothing at the mouth. When picking an Internet service provider, price is by no means the only factor to consider. The bandwidth of the connection to the Internet used by the provider is an important factor, as is the number of users connected to that provider. A 512-Kbps leased line will obviously allow for a faster data transfer rate than, say, a 128-Kbps line. But if the latter line had 5,000 users constantly using it and the latter only had 500, the 128-Kpbs leased line would provide for faster data transmission. Ask the service providers, whose services you are considering using, for details of their line bandwidth and the number of users on their service. Also check if they are piggy backers or not. A service provider with a 128-Kbps local leased line to a provider with a 64-Kbps line to the US would not necessarily offer you faster access than the 64-Kbps line provider would in the first place. Think of bottlenecks here. As far as service providers go, Hong Kong SuperNet is still considered the largest in terms of bandwidth as well as usage. Asia On-line is fast catching up, and newcomer Linkage On-line is making more than a few waves. But, at the risk of facing some criticism for making the following comments, I would suggest you look at IBM's new Internet service that was launched this morning. With two 512-Kbs lines to the Internet connected through Japan and Australia, this provides a whopping chunk of bandwidth. And while the prices are not the cheapest around, for the type of services on offer, they are not bad. IBM is offering two access schemes. The first, called the 'getting started' service, offers users connection for $120 a month which includes 10 hours of free access time. Every hour used thereafter will cost $14.50. The second, or 'comprehensive' service, will cost users $250 a month for which they will get 25 hours of free access. Every hour thereafter will cost $12. The initial $200 joining fee is being waived by IBM during the first three months. Send your questions to Tech Talk, Technology Post, G P O Box 47, Hong Kong, or fax them to 2561-7897.