Microsoft puts curbs on free Hotmail

Hotmail users are told that they must upgrade to MSN Extra Storage, which will cost $19.95 a year, if they want to continue checking outside e-mail accounts through the service.

Microsoft's MSN said Wednesday that Hotmail users who want to retrieve e-mail from outside accounts through the service will have to pay up starting July 16.

In an e-mail notice to Hotmail users, MSN announced that for $19.95 a year, MSN Extra Storage would allow them to continue to use POP Mail Retrieval. The POP service allows customers to access various e-mail accounts through one Hotmail account.

In addition, the paid service provides 10MB of Hotmail storage, allowing people to send and receive larger attachments, and ensures that unused accounts will not expire. Hotmail requires its free users to log on every 30 days to keep an account active.

"Those people who are already paying for MSN Extra Storage will not have any increase in fees," said Parul Shah, product manager for MSN. "With 110 million Hotmail users, MSN needs to drive revenue to support the resources that it takes to provide free services."

This move is yet another sign that the free Internet ride is over. The Hotmail announcement is just the latest in a series of companies beginning to charge for Internet services that were once free. Last month, Yahoo implemented fees for checking e-mail outside of its services and storing some data through Yahoo Photos and Briefcase.

Hotmail users recently have seen some folders cleaned out and some e-mail messages returned to the sender as MSN attempts to convince heavy e-mail users to upgrade to the increased storage offered in the premium version of Hotmail.

Separately Wednesday, MSN launched MSN Shopping Alerts, which lets consumers know about sales on certain e-commerce sites. This service is free, but Microsoft says it will eventually charge a fee for it.