I HAVE to admit I am getting frustrated. The more I deal with Hong Kong's growing body of Internet providers the more I realise the market has grown too fast and too freely and the result has been shoddy service and technical support across the board from the smallest operations to the multi-national players in the territory's Internet scene. Most recently I have had the choice opportunity to witness the multi-week (actually multi-month) process needed to transfer handling of a domain name from one provider's system to another. I have been involved in these transfers before and they should not take longer than a few days at most, and that includes the time it takes for domain name changes to propagate around the Internet. To cap it off, I cancelled my account with one provider in June and asked that they E-mail me a final statement on my account right away so that I could make payment as soon as possible (before I went and spent the cash on a new toy for my PC). Well, it was weeks before the account ceased to exist, taking the account over into a new billing month (which I am not intending to pay for). To top it off, it is at least two months now and I have still to receive any type of invoice - by E-mail, fax or post. And, I've bought that new toy for my PC. Maybe I will get an invoice now that I have admitted this publicly to the whole territory. Not that I am complaining about not having to pay for a few months of relatively expensive Internet access, but these service gaffes among different providers, and more like it during the past year, makes me wonder where this once promising market is headed now that they have survived a challenge in the form of police raids, Legco meetings, convicted hackers and PNETS licences. One would hope that with a clear decision that the market needs regulation - after all those nifty PNETS licences are a must these days - some semblance of order and professionalism would become the norm. Instead the norm seems to be profit. That is, lots of people out there see dollar signs in the word Internet and go out and set up a provider service. But, the business they are setting up seems to lack that key word: service. What the people offering Internet access increasingly seem to think is that all it takes is a Netra server, a Cisco router and a leased line with a couple of modems to make millions off the Internet. It is exactly because this attitude seems so pervasive that regulation was probably a good idea from the start. Unfortunately, the regulation we have got so far is summed up in a simple phrase: pay up. It seems to be a money issue for the regulators. There seems to be no attempt to control the size or the professionalism of the Internet market. What is the point of regulation if there is no assurance that consumers are not, to some degree, being protected. After all, with most countries' telephone regulations, part of the regulatory structure is to ensure that customers are protected from over-pricing, under-servicing, and so on. There seems to be no such protection for the thousands of Internet users in Hong Kong. The solution is not so clear. Consumers, especially those taking their first tentative steps into cyberspace, need to be sure they have a good working relationship with their provider and trust who they are dealing with. Otherwise, God forbid, they may need to consider CompuServe. TIP OF THE WEEK Lots of people complain that women are under-represented on the Internet. After all, cyberspace is the bastion of white, male, computer hacks, right? Well, one step towards remedying the situation is the launch of Women's Wire. The interactive electronic magazine recently opened shop on-line with CompuServe and now has a site on the Web at http://women.com/WO MEN950731/PHOTO. Men welcome too.