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Baby Bells hope to ring up ISP sales

Bell Atlantic and US West are joining the speeding ISP bandwagon.

Two more Baby Bells are this week joining the speeding Internet access bandwagon.

Bell Atlantic tomorrow is launching its Internet access service, called Bell To be available initially only in the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area, the service will be switched on in Philadelphia and Roanoke, Virginia, in August, in New Jersey in September, and in Pittsburgh and Norfolk, Virginia, in the fourth quarter, company spokeswoman Ginger Fisk said.

The company will continue to deploy service in smaller markets through 1997 but won't specify when the entire region--which covers Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia--will have full Internet access.

US West, with a service region that covers 14 Northwest and Rocky Mountain states, is using a different tack to capitalize on the growth of the Internet. The company's Interprise division announced today it will go nationwide with its Interact intranet development services.

The Interact services are already available in its service region, but now the company will expand into 33 urban markets across the country. The company will also make its frame relay network backbone and transparent LAN service available in the same areas by early 1997.

Bell Atlantic, meanwhile, is preparing to compete in the increasingly crowded and price-conscious dial-up access service market. Its residential service is priced at $19.95 a month for unlimited access, the same price charged by AT&T, and MCI.

Although AT&T's WorldNet service was at first plagued by widely publicized customer support problems, the Baby Bells will be hard-pressed to compete with the national telco giant and other industry heavyweights.

"It's going to be tough going for them," said Emily Green, analyst at Forrester Research. "If all they're doing is offering price differences, they're cutting their own throats."

Despite such dire predictions, at least one regional phone company, Pacific Bell, claims to be doing well with Internet access sales. The company won't yet specify how many people have signed up for the service it launched in late May, but it says subscriptions have exceeded expectations.

Green added that the Baby Bells will only distinguish themselves by delivering well-oiled customer support to new users and offering creative services that stand out from the pack.

BA is trying to make a step in that direction with Bell's Web guide. Customers browsing the Web through Bell Atlantic will automatically load BA's home page menu, which provides links to 3,000 pre-selected sites. The company also plans to add a search engine in about a month.

Related stories:
GTE, UUNet offer national Net access
AT&T is latest MS ally in Net assault
US West tests phone with Net access
Pac Bell chimes in with Net service
WorldNet booms, but with some glitches