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Excite, AT&T do online service

AT&T and Excite jump on the bandwagon with a cobranded deal on the heels of the telco teaming with Lycos for a similar offering.

AT&T and search firm Excite today joined the Web-based online service herd, announcing plans to launch "Excite Online Powered by AT&T WorldNet Service."

The three-year deal comes on the heels of an announcement by AT&T that it would partner with search firm Lycos, also for a Web-based online service. Excite also just announced it would power the search capability on Netscape Communications' Netcenter gateway or "portal" site.

In March, Yahoo and MCI Communications launched a Web-based online service as well.

The spate of deals--especially AT&T's teaming with rivals for similar services in the same week--calls into question the potential these Web-based online services have for widespread success. ISPs in general have struggled with pricing services competitively while watching their bottom lines. On the other hand, the portals--such as Excite, Yahoo, and America Online--are locked in a battle to provide as many add-ons as possible to attract users and the ad dollars they bring.

The Web-based online services are another means for drawing users--but with the ISPs spreading their access services among interface rivals, the end result of the battle could come down to which portal has the most brand recognition.

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Excite Online, set to open in June, will integrate technology from AT&T Labs, the firms said. For example, the service will offer Net-based, multimedia communications features such as click-to-dial directories, anonymous voice chat, and conference calling controlled from the Web.

AT&T WorldNet's customer service will be integrated into the Excite Online interface, and the firms will jointly market the service.

Subscribers to the Excite-AT&T service, which will be "competitively priced," also will receive special online access to AT&T personal communications services, including long distance phone service, wireless communications, and prepaid calling cards.

"The powerful combination of AT&T's Internet access service and penetration of the consumer marketplace, combined with Excite's leading Internet service, provide the opportunity to build the largest online service for accessing the Internet," George Bell, president and chief executive of Excite, said in a statement.

Reuters contributed to this report.