By Mike Musgrove Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2004; Page F01
Internet subscribers are starting to find a few more freebies in their subscriptions these days.
For both dial-up and broadband users, Internet providers now throw in a range of tools designed to protect them against the Internet's nagging headaches.
Pop-up ad blockers stop the assault of advertising, spam filters try to shunt the junk e-mail aside, antivirus software defuses viruses arriving in e-mail, parental controls stop kids from stumbling into obscene Web sites and spyware detectors evict foreign software from users' computers.
Some Internet companies are even working on ways to protect customers from getting duped by "phishing" scams, in which con artists try to fool unsuspecting Web users into entering their passwords, credit card numbers and other personal data at phony financial sites.
Internet service used to consist of nothing more than an access number for your modem to dial into and an e-mail inbox, but now an Internet provider has to play many more roles -- cop, janitor, medic and even concierge.
Renu Chipalkatti, executive director of portal management at Verizon, says online services have to take on these extra jobs because high-speed Internet subscriptions now draw everyday folks, not just technically adept enthusiasts.
"We are seeing broadband penetrate into the mass market," she said. "The people in the mass market are not techies, so our goal is to educate them and give them the tools they need." Verizon offers junk e-mail filtering, parental controls and virus scanning as part of its subscription.
America Online Inc. is best known for packaging lots of extras with Internet access; these days, a good chunk of its business comes from "bring your own access" users who pay to use AOL features over their regular connection.
But one of its chief competitors, EarthLink Inc., took a lead in the area of cleaning up other people's messes -- pop-up ads, viruses, spam and so on -- said Steve Kirkeby, senior director of telecommunications at market information company J.D. Power and Associates.
Other providers have followed suit, and now it's becoming a can-you-top-this game in which no one provider can expect to stay ahead for long.