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Many Ways to Pay -- or to Leave

It would be nice if all AOL members had access to the AOL broadband plans, but they don't. In some areas, broadband isn't available; in others, it's available from only carriers that do not have deals with AOL. The result makes AOL's high-speed pricing vary depending on where users live.

AOL is reacting by selectively lowering prices for customers who buy broadband from other companies and then call to discuss how to keep AOL. Several readers who had purchased broadband on their own told me they persuaded AOL to reduce their bring-your-own-access price to $10.95 a month, the same as if they had bought an AOL High Speed plan.

Bentley said that $10.95 price is available to people who buy broadband from Comcast or Cox, but she couldn't specify under what other conditions members might get the break. "We will work with our members to make sure that they have a good value on the AOL side in terms of price," she said.

Some of AOL's negotiations seem arbitrary.

Mike Martucci of Herndon, for example, wrote that when he called to inquire about canceling AOL and picking up his mail using AIM Web mail, the firm waived his $2 price increase. "They immediately said they would keep my monthly rate at $4.95 because they didn't want to lose me as a customer."

Others told me AOL waived their $2 increase for unlimited dial-up after they complained that AOL broadband wasn't available in their area.

What they may not have realized is that AOL will go lower. It will actually decrease the price for unlimited dial-up to $18 a month for customers who commit for a full year.

Confused yet? I wish I could simplify things, but my advice to AOL members trying to identify their high-speed options is to start by entering their Zip code at this address -- http://www.aol.com/highspeed . AOL will show a list of available broadband partners and prices.

Just remember, nothing's etched in silicon, and there are at least 50 ways to leave your AOL.

Leslie Walker welcomes e-mail atwalkerl@washpost.com.


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