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Excite@Home ready to jump into Germany

The largest high-speed Internet-over-cable service provider in the United States plans to launch its service in Germany by mid-2000, according to the company.

An Autobahn-style Internet is heading for Germany.

Excite@Home, the largest high-speed Internet-over-cable service provider in the United States, plans to launch its service in Germany by mid-2000, according to the company. It has formed a joint venture with Tele-Columbus and the cable operator's parent company Deutsche Bank Investor to create @Home Deutschland.

The German Internet access market, with its 11.2 million Net users, is proving to be one of the biggest technological battlefields in Europe and a testing ground for new online business models.

America Online is launching a flat-rate dial-up Net service there next month--a common service in the United States, but a rarity in the European market, where consumers pay for local calls and most Internet services by the minute. Sony Europe is also trying to establish a foothold in the country for its own free ISP service.

"[Germany is] an obvious magnet," said Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies, a broadband market research firm. "It's a great market to be in because it has high PC penetration, high Internet usage, and it's an affluent country."

The always-on, non-metered aspect of the service is likely to attract German Net users used to shelling out per-minute fees for dial-up service, Harris added. "Anything you can do to get people on a flat-rate, always-on connection has a great deal of appeal," the analyst said.

But Excite@Home will face competition in Germany, similar to what it faces in the United States. The country's leading telephone company, Deutsche Telekom, plans to have 70 cities wired for high-speed digital subscriber loop (DSL) Internet access by the end of 1999, and is also conducting trials of video-over-telephone line services.

DSL is a technology that allows a customer to receive high-speed Internet and traditional voice signals simultaneously over a single telephone line.

Excite@Home executives said they expected to sign additional European expansion deals soon. The service is already available in the Netherlands, and ventures in Japan and Australia are slated to open next year.

"There are many ISDN users in Germany, but this is much faster and it's not metered. We're talking flat rate access," said Christian Dahlen, Excite@Home's director of business development for Europe. "We think this could be a very good opportunity."

News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.