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Tellme Web-over-phone service goes national

One of several prominent start-ups aiming to bring the Web's information within the reach of an ordinary telephone call, the company is taking its service national today.

Tellme Networks, one of several prominent start-ups aiming to bring the Web's information within the reach of an ordinary telephone call, is taking its service national today.

The company has been in a three-month beta test with a limited number of customers. The early results of the test were successful enough to attract a $60 million investment from giant AT&T, with an aim of integrating Tellme's voice-activated system into Ma Bell's network services.

Tellme is one of several Web services that allow customers to call a toll-free number and use voice-activated commands to retrieve audio information about news, sports, local restaurants, traffic or other Web-based information over the telephone.

The full-service start-up enters a market already crowded with competitors, such as BeVocal and Quack.com, which have similar aims of bringing the Web to the phone.

Executives said the test process did allow the company to refine its voice-recognition systems as well as showed trends about what kinds of services people use and when. The company also added at least one new feature to its list of restaurant reviews, movie listings, airline flights and other information: providing a direct link to local taxi services.

But in a move that may have a greater impact on the service, Tellme also found it could draw on information provided by newfound partner AT&T to determine the location of callers, whether they were using wireless or land-based telephones.

That information can now be used to give customers the nearest taxi service, restaurant or other service, the company said.

"The data we get from AT&T has allowed us to produce some really awesome features," Tellme chief executive Mike McCue said.

The company has already started to get revenues from a new program in which businesses sign up to create their own voice-activated information sites through Tellme's service, McCue said. The company has not yet said whom it is working with in this program, however.

The Tellme service can be reached by calling 1-800-555-TELL.