A series of tests from Internet magazine has thrown some light on the qualitative difference between Internet providers – and the biggest were by no means the best. Demon Internet Plc, whose private placing this month of ú26.7m is to make millionaires of its two founders, Cliff Stanford and Giles Todd, rated worst in October’s results and poorly in November. Demon, the UK’s largest Internet provider, announced a share issue which was to raise ú5.5m in new cash for the company. The tests, instituted at UK publishing house Emap Plc’s test laboratories, dialled each provider throughout a 24-hour period and over the course of the week. Establishing a connection first time gave the provider five points, second time four and so on until no connection after five tries bottomed out. In October’s tests, Demon and Easynet Ltd clearly failed to make the grade, and at several times during the day no connection was possible at all. Demon’s Stanford defended his service saying that on that particular day, most of the modems that receive the calls were switched off for maintenance and that customers – including Emap – had been informed of this fact. However, while Demon’s November figures show marginal improvement, it is still below the standards of its rivals. Dave Barrett, head of corporate communications at Unipalm Group Plc’s Pipex, which, of the major players, took one of the highest scores in both surveys, believes people are only just becoming aware of qualitative differences in providers’ networks. Pipex’s strategy is to build a network large enough to accommodate its mandate no busy tones. There used to be a people-to-modem ratio of 30:1 or 50:1. That is not acceptable any more, he said. Pipex has around 24,000 dial-ups and 800 corporate licences. In contrast, Demon responds to perceived demand. There is no formula, said Stanford, whose customer base is around 45,000 and doubling every nine months. If any line has around two thirds usage we consider buying in [more bandwidth]. Graham Davies, managing director of Easynet, with 2,500 customers and growing at 400 a month, protested that the nature of the tests were subjective. The quality of a service is not just about connecting, he said. High on people’s lists is how the provider handles problems and what level of technical support there is. Davies pointed out that the newness of the technology meant that many providers had been hit by poor services themselves, including late delivery of modems from manufacturers and leased lines from telecommunications companies. Barrett believes there’s a place for small independent Internet resellers as long as they add value: local information or fast servers. People are starting to become aware that there is a difference between providers, he said, adding What I’d say is buy the magazines. Read the reviews. Talk to other users and decide. Don’t just believe the likes of me.