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Bell Atlantic gets into Net market

Bell Atlantic became the latest Baby Bell to jump into the Internet service provider arena with plans to offer access for businesses next month and consumers in July.

Bell Atlantic has become the latest Baby Bell to jump into the Internet service provider arena with plans to offer access to businesses next month and consumers starting in July.

The monthly cost of dedicated Internet access for businesses will range from $200 for 56-kbps connections to $775 for 1.17-mbps lines. Regular dial-up service for residential users will be rolled out in July at $17.95 a month for unlimited access or $4.95 per month for five hours and $1.95 for each additional hour.

Users of dedicated and dial-up access will have to pay an additional fee to long distance companies for "interexchange services," which will run business users between $150 and $400 more per month and residential users about an additional $2 each month.

The Bell Atlantic service will initially be available in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Roanoke, Virginia. It will then expand to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Norfolk, Virginia, and cities in northern New Jersey.

Bell Atlantic's Baby Bell brethren, Pacific Bell and US West, have already announced Internet access services, and AT&T and MCI are just now entering the market as well.

Like the big long distance companies--which offer special deals to their customers--regional Bell carriers will be able to leverage their vast database of telephone users in marketing Internet services, a formidable advantage not shared by smaller ISPs such as UUNet and PSINet. But Bell Atlantic does not expect to complete service rollouts in its coverage areas until November, a window that analysts say could leave plenty of opportunity for other ISPs.

"In the time between now and when they actually deploy this service, 50 percent of the people [in their coverage areas] will be on the Internet already with AT&T, MCI, UUNet," said Daniel Briere, president of telecommunications consultancy TeleChoice.

Bell Atlantic and the other Baby Bells also have to deal with these interexchange fees, from which both the long distance carriers and Net access companies like Netcom are exempt. For residential users, the interexchange fees will bring Bell Atlantic's offering in line with prices for AT&T's WorldNet service, which charges $19.95 per month for unlimited access. said.

The interexchange fees are necessary because of a Federal Communications Commission regulations that officially classify Internet communications as long distance traffic. Under the Telecommunications Act, Bell Atlantic will eventually be freed to offer long distance service and will then eliminate interexchange fees for Internet users, Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Ginger Fisk said.

"Not being an interexchange carrier is a little bit of a blip," Fisk said. "It's a little inconvenience we have to put up with until we're in the long distance business. We're looking at 18 months to 2 years [before Bell Atlantic offers long distance service]."

The Internet package will come with a Bell Atlantic-branded version of either Netscape Communications' Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, as well as access to a customized version of the Microsoft Network online service.

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