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Lycos enters high-speed access race

The company is quietly developing a broadband strategy to tap into the growing population of high-speed Net users, following similar efforts by competing Web portals.

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Lycos is quietly developing a broadband strategy to tap into the growing population of high-speed Net users, following similar efforts by competing Web portals.

Internally referred to as Lycos Lightning, the project is the first concrete indication that Lycos is serious about introducing broadband applications across its network of services and features.

"We are using Lightning to define all our products geared toward high-speed users," said Mark Simmer, Lycos's chief content officer. "We're rolling out products one by one on Lycos."

High-speed broadband connections are expected to make significant inroads into U.S. homes within the next few years. The idea of households accessing the Internet via broadband connections has prompted many Web companies to beef up their services to feature media-rich applications, such as video downloads.

Many analysts say broadband connections will bridge the gap between TV and Internet content. Most people access the Internet using slower connection speeds, which hampers them from viewing hefty media downloads.

"As broadband services begin to proliferate, people will be going to look for content," said Abhishek Gami, an equity analyst at William Blair.

The move comes as Lycos's primary competitors are launching high-speed offerings of their own. As previously reported, AOL is planning to launch AOL Plus, a version that will launch when the online giant begins offering high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) access with SBC Communications and Bell Atlantic later this summer. AOL Plus is software that will detect users' access speeds and then automatically add broadband services.

Other Web heavyweights also have taken steps to offer high-speed services. Most notable is Excite, which was acquired by cable modem ISP @Home. The merged company is betting that most consumers will access the Web through broadband cable lines and plans to bundle an Excite-powered home page with broadband access.

Yahoo also is creating a Turbo Yahoo initiative to upgrade its network of services into a broadband offering. The company recently acquired Broadcast.com, which streams audio and video programming on the Web. The move was seen as a way for Yahoo to add a media delivery platform for future broadband services.

NBC and CNET's Snap.com also has launched its own broadband site, Snap Cyclone. The site offers a collection of higher-bandwidth audio and video downloads.

NBC recently merged its Internet assets with home page builder Xoom.com and will call the new division NBC Internet.

NBC is an investor in CNET, publisher of News.com.

Simmer added that Lycos already has rolled out media services geared toward high-speed Web users. In February, Lycos signed with Norwegian site FAST to offer a searchable database of controversial MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3) audio download files. Simmer said MP3 is a broadband application because it requires considerable bandwidth for download and playback.

"You will only have good user experience downloading MP3 if you have a broadband connection," he said.

Simmer said the April launch of the Lycos Radio Network also was a foundation for further broadband audio streaming services.

Further down the road Lycos plans to continue rolling out features on its site. Simmer added that Lycos will consider bundling all of its services if there is consumer demand for an all-in-one package.

For now Simmer said a step-by-step release is the way to test what consumers really want.

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