Hell hath no fury like an abused Netsurfer. Or perhaps I should put it another way. Some people become totally irrational when they feel they have been even slightly let down by their Internet provider or online service. I've been browsing through forums such as alt.aol.sucks, alt.aol.overbilling, alt.compuserve.sucks and alt.msn.sucks, and they are not friendly places.

In alt.netcom.sucks, a user was complaining about constant busy signals and other service failures. "Your [sic] lucky you live in America where it's legal to rip off your customers. Answer your damn e-mails ... Don't you feel guilty at all? You will rot in the same hell as AOL. When I joined you were truly state of the art. Now your [sic] just living off the people that are too lazy to dump your ass." He ends his posting with: "God, I hate them with a religious zeal!" Another correspondent complained that he couldn't even get through to Netcom on the phone to cancel his account.

But it is AOL that seems to spawn the most deranged fanatics. In alt.aol.sucks, a San Franciscan Netsurfer was calling on people to help his friend assemble an "anti-AOL installation". Obviously, he has plenty of time on his hands. "His plan is to collect as many AOL disks as possible, do something so horrible that I dare not mention it ... in honor of ... all their censorship and wastefulness." You would think he was talking about a totalitarian regime.

Currently, a lot of anger in the AOL groups is directed at its decision to move to a flat monthly charge of $19.95 for unlimited use of its services. But one writer smells a clever conspiracy in the way the company has handled it: "AOL's advantage lies in clouding the issue as much as possible, in moving their under-10-hour-a-month users to $19.95 monthly, in moving as few heavy users as possible to $19.95 flat."

Demon Internet seems to generate more criticism than all the other Internet and online services combined. There were more than 4,800 postings in its demon.service forum recently - far more than you normally see in popular movie star groups. To be fair, many of the critics are fairly sane, but there are quite a few Mr Angrys at work as well. One furious Demon Internet user posted a fake press release in the demon.service newsgroup last month alleging that "Demon Management Admits Complete and Utter Incompetence". It was a spoof of the usual format in Demon announcements: "The engaged tone, provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is provided free of charge to every user and there are no additional online costs." Incredibly, some correspondents in the forum believed it was genuine.

Miraculously, one Internet service provider seems to have escaped the Net fanatics. In fact, when I visited the Pipex newsgroups, there was not a single comment in any of them. All the other companies must be asking the same question - what's their secret?