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BellSouth preps wireless tests for Net service

The local telephone giant plans to test new wireless technology early next year in a push to introduce high-speed Internet access to its more rural customers.

Local telephone giant BellSouth plans to test new wireless technology early next year in a push to introduce high-speed Internet access to its more rural customers.

The company announced plans in Washington, D.C. today at a conference addressing the growing division between those who have Net access in the nation, and those who don't. With a large percentage of its customer base residing in rural areas in the southeastern United States, BellSouth has looked to new technologies to offer services to these customers.

BellSouth plans to initially offer wireless Net access to a dozen customers in Houma, La., and hopes the initial introduction will help provide it with information to eventually expand the services on a large scale.

"We've been looking for a cost effective way to offer Internet access out in the more rural areas," BellSouth spokesman David Sutton said.

Fixed wireless technology, which uses microwave dishes to transmit data at high speeds, is gaining acceptance as a popular broadband alternative for Net access, cable television, and local telephone service. Other high-speed technologies, like digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable, are often not available in rural areas.

Many major communications companies, including AT&T, Sprint, MCI WorldCom, as well as smaller firms such as Teligent and WinStar Communications, are buying wireless spectrum to offer fixed wireless services. Equipment providers also have embraced the technology.

BellSouth plans to use a certain wireless spectrum, called the Wireless Communications Service (WCS) spectrum, to deliver Net access to rural customers. Many other communications companies use different technologies, such as LMDS and MMDS, which use other portions of the wireless spectrum.

BellSouth does use MMDS fixed wireless technology, however, to deliver cable TV service to some customers, according to a spokesman.

"This is a continued effort by BellSouth to find solutions to serve all of its customers," said Mel Levine, director of wireless strategies for BellSouth. "We realize there are gaps in what we can provide our customers with wireline technology."

ADC Telecommunications will provide BellSouth with fixed wireless equipment, according to the phone company.