Internet

"C" development stalled

CompuServe's separate Web-based service, "C," is another casualty of America Online's restructuring plans.

America Online's plans for restructuring CompuServe call for suspending development of its Web-based service "C."

AOL also said it is conducting a "comprehensive review" of Sprynet, its Internet service provider, and is evaluating all possible "strategic alternatives" for this asset, presumably including a possible sale.

As reported earlier, CompuServe rolled out "C" in December, part of a larger trend to put more online content on the Web. It was launched as a free trial. But plans were in the works for three levels of service, ranging from free content with limited access to message boards to full access to the boards and other content for a monthly fee of less than $10, according to CompuServe.

The launch of "C" had been closely watched, because it represented another instance of the blurring lines between proprietary and Web-based online services. How AOL's buyout of CompuServe's online services division affected "C" had been unclear--until today.

Now AOL has decided to shift most of the completed work used in developing "C" to the flagship CompuServe service, as well as to a software upgrade of that service, dubbed CompuServe 5.0. "C" no longer will be marketed as a separate product or separately branded, an AOL spokesman said. Some of the free content still will be offered by accessing CompuServe's home page, however, he added.

"It was determined to focus on the flagship service as we were revitalizing the company," the spokesman said.

CompuServe now charges $24.95 per month for unlimited Internet access, compared to $21.95 per month under AOL's proposed price increased, also announced today. As before, CompuServe is expected to focus on its community forums as key features of the proprietary online service.

"Now that CompuServe has joined with us, I want to reassure you that we will maintain CompuServe as a separate service, here and internationally, running on its own network," AOL chief executive Steve Case said in a letter to CompuServe members. "This means we will also maintain CompuServe's distinctive content, email system, forums, and functionality to preserve the service's look and feel."