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CompuServe introduces flat rates

CompuServe members get in sync with almost all other ISP subscribers with the option to switch to flat-rate pricing.

    CompuServe (CSRV) members get in sync with almost all other ISP subscribers with the option to switch to flat-rate pricing starting today.

    Members of the online service will be able to switch from hourly rates to "all-you-can-eat" pricing at $24.95 per month, $5 over the industry standard of $19.95.

    The change comes just months before CompuServe plans to roll out its newest version of its service, which will be based on the Web.

    CompuServe was one of the last holdouts charging by the hour when it decided to go to flat-rate pricing in August. But unlike most services--including its chief rival at the time, America Online (AOL)--CompuServe decided to charge a little more for the privilege of membership, figuring that its business-oriented users would be willing to pay more.

    Since it made the announcement, of course, AOL made a bid to buy CompuServe. That acquisition is being reviewed by the Justice Department.

    Whether the pricing introduced today will be affected if and when the sale is completed is anyone's guess. Neither party is allowed to discuss it for fear of being accused of antitrust violations, according to CompuServe spokesman Steve Conway.

    But CompuServe is already doing things differently than its one-time competitor, AOL. It is allowing members to choose whether they want to switch to the new pricing rather than automatically switching them, something America Online did, irking users and state attorney generals.

    Members will be able to choose the $24.95 rate as of today. They also can remain on the current plan of $9.95 for the first five hours and $2.95 for each additional hour. Members also can opt to stay on the "super value plan" of $24.95 per month for 20 free hours of access and $1.95 for each additional hour, but as Conway points out, that wouldn't make much sense when they can get all the hours they want for the same rate. That price plan will not be offered to new members.

    Based on testing and surveys, "we know we're going to get a lot of people signing up," Conway said.