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Bell, Snap deal continues trend

The duo are teaming up to offer high-speed Net access, keeping with the trend of packaging portals with service providers.

Bell Atlantic and Web portal Snap are teaming up to offer high-speed Net access, in keeping with the trend of packaging portals with service.

The service, called Infospeed DSL with Bell Atlantic.net and Snap, will pair a more multimedia-intensive version of Snap with Bell Atlantic's ADSL service. (Snap is a joint venture between NBC and CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.)

High-speed "broadband" access is expected to make significant inroads into consumer homes by 2002, led by cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL) services. Some 16 million households will have broadband access, with 80 percent opting for cable modems, according to a Forrester Research study.

In the past, telecommunications giant AT&T has actively courted major portals Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, and Infoseek to partner with its Internet service provider business AT&T WorldNet.

The idea behind these packages is for ISPs to attract new members with premium navigation from popular services. Portals stand to benefit by attracting traffic to view ad-driven sites, and thus generating more revenue.

With today's announcement, it seems the broadband world is beginning to adopt the same strategy. Questions remain, however, such as whether products like Snap from the analog, dial-up world can dazzle in the broadband world, and whether greater bandwidth can support more multimedia applications.

At this point, cable modem access providers such as @Home and Road Runner offer their own navigation interfaces, featuring video feeds and CD-quality audio. The services also set their own developed cable portals as the default home page, and are very different from standard Web portals.

"It's nothing like anything you've seen in the online world," said Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies, describing cable modem services.

Harris said the cable access providers currently have the upper hand, since telecommunications providers traditionally have focused more heavily on access rather than content.

Some analysts have argued that portals and cable access providers eventually will have to join hands and ink partnerships. This is so, analysts say, because many portals have gained considerable brand awareness among mainstream customers.

Nonetheless, Harris remains unconvinced that the new Snap navigation can match up to the more heavily multimedia-based service that companies such as @Home offer. When asked if cable access providers still have the upper hand, Harris responded, "If Bell Atlantic's play is Snap, sure."

The service will be offered starting at $59.95 a month for 640-kbps service. Availability will begin today in Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, and will eventually extend to Philadelphia and New Jersey in the coming weeks. The service will reach New York and Boston in early 1999.