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Ameritech offers commercial DSL

The company is the second Baby Bell to offer commercial high-speed Net access over copper wires to its customers.

On the heels of US West, Ameritech today became the second Baby Bell to offer commercial high-speed Net access over copper wires to its customers.

In this case, Ameritech is teaming up with Microsoft to provide the service. It is another example of the escalating battle between telecommunications Raising the speed limit carriers and cable television operators to provide high-speed Net access to customers with competing technologies. Software giants such as Microsoft are leveraging their bets on both technologies. While still minuscule, this is considered a fast-growth market.

Ameritech is launching ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) service in Ann Arbor, Michigan (home of the University of Michigan), to be followed by Royal Oak, Michigan, and the Chicago area in the middle of next year. It plans to make ADSL available to 70 percent of its customers in the next three years.

Ameritech's service will let users download data at speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second and send data at up to 128 kilobits per second. "With ADSL, a graphic-intensive Web page that would take a minute to download with a standard modem will only take a second with ADSL," said Thomas Richards, Ameritech executive vice president, in a statement.

Ameritech will charge $50 per month for the service through year's end, as well as waiving the $200 cost of the modem. The installation fee costs $150. Starting next year, Ameritech will charge $60 per month for ADSL.

Ameritech and Microsoft say they are working with hardware makers to make their PCs and equipment ADSL compatible. The telco also will package its DSL (digital subscriber line) service with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. "We are working collaboratively to make installing ADSL as easy as Plug and Play," said Cameron Myhrvold, vice president of Microsoft's Internet customer unit.

As reported, US West recently launched DSL in the Phoenix area and is expanding the service throughout its western territory this year and next. Bell Atlantic, Bell South, and SBC Communications already are holding DSL market trials, with commercial launches slated for next year.

On the cable-modem side, companies such as @Home, MediaOne Express, and Time Warner's Road Runner are rolling out high-speed Net access via cable. Those markets include Ameritech's territory.

Start-ups also are emerging to provide DSL, such as Covad Communications, which launched service in Silicon Valley this week and is planning a national rollout next year. Internet service provider also debuted DSL in Silicon Valley this week.