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Qwest to offer Net access service

The telecommunications carrier for the first time offers Internet access and other digital services for consumers and small businesses.

Telecommunications carrier Qwest Communications International will for the first time offer Internet access and other digital services for consumers and small businesses.

Qwest's new service--called the Q.home Internet Service--offers Net access, Web-based text paging, browser-enhanced conference calling, and faxing.

Qwest said 95 percent of U.S. homes and businesses can access the company's various digital services.

Qwest is one of a new breed of telecommunications carriers building a nationwide packet-switched fiber optic network. The company expects its 18,500-mile network to be completed by mid-year.

But while many of the company's competitors--such as Level 3 Communications, Frontier, Williams Communications--largely target the wholesale data capacity market aimed at other carriers, Internet service providers (ISPs), and large corporate customers, Qwest also is aggressively courting consumers.

Qwest already offers long distance voice service to consumers and businesses through its 1998 acquisition of LCI International. Although most analysts expect corporate data services to account for the majority of Qwest's income in the future, the deal allowed Qwest to net some short term revenue while it continued to build out its new network.

Now, with several recent acquisitions and partnerships, Qwest is making a similar consumer push with the Q.home Internet service.

Qwest bought Icon CMT, a large Internet services company, last year. More recently, Microsoft invested $200 million in Qwest to help each company expand into data services.

Last week, Qwest took an equity stake in Covad Communications, a competitive local exchange carrier specializing in digital subscriber line (DSL) technology.

Some analysts have said Qwest is making moves simply to boost revenue and name recognition among consumers.

"I think they're doing it to get their name out there and maybe get a quick hit to the top line," said Philip Wohl, a telecommunications analyst with S&P Equity Group. "You can't make the higher margins on dial-up. All the big guys are getting out."

The company's new dial-up Net access offering costs $19.95 per month for unlimited use, or $14.95 if customers also use Qwest as their long distance telephone service.

The Q.home service also features Send-A-Page, an Internet-based text or numeric paging service, and Click-to-Fax, an Internet Protocol-based faxing service.

In addition, the Q.home offering includes Click-to-Conference, a conference calling service that supports up to eight callers at a time. Domestic conference calls will cost 25 cents a minute, per line.

The company also announced that it will change its website domain to Qwest.com from Qwest.net.