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BellSouth counts on portal play

The last stand-alone "Baby Bell" hopes Net radio, online video and other features will bring customers to its broadband Internet service.

BellSouth is beefing up its Web portal in a bid to draw more customers to its broadband Internet service.

BellSouth, the last stand-alone "Baby Bell," unveiled a redesigned home page Tuesday, adding an Internet radio service from RadioAmp and online video from AtomFilms. The company said the site now includes 12 channels where people can find information related to auto, auctions, entertainment, finance, health, shopping and other areas.

BellSouth has run a portal aimed at dial-up customers since 1999, when it launched BellSouth Buzz. Analysts said the renewed push is aimed primarily at boosting the company's broadband efforts.

At the end of 2001, BellSouth had signed on about 620,000 DSL (digital subscriber line) customers for its Net access service. The company also offers wholesale high-speed Internet access to rivals, including America Online and Microsoft's MSN, in the nine states where it operates.

The revamped site "is clearly a work in progress--or it's a first step in future upgrades and innovations to the menu of broadband services they plan to offer," said T.S. Kelly, principal analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings.

Kelly said BellSouth has good brands and products, but it misses the mark in trying to enhance the experience of broadband content. He noted that some of the layout and design of the site "is a little out of date."

"The motivation is great in getting more broadband users to understand the value of all the terrific content out there," he said. "But their execution probably needs to be reviewed."

BellSouth, however, believes its site will attract people to the best of broadband content. The company said it has new high-speed offerings from media companies, including Disney.com, ABCNews.com and business magazine Entrepreneur.

"We've seen customer activity that led us to believe that we need to continue to improve and create a more robust service by making the page simpler and faster," said Tim Hill, director of portal services for BellSouth Internet Services. "We're trying to grow our Internet service customer base. Obviously, we want to convert our dial-up base to DSL, but we also want to continue to grow the DSL."