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MCI attacks on several fronts

To expand its reach in the competitive Net market, MCI aligns itself with several heavy hitters and pumps up its infrastructure.

Expanding its reach into the brutally competitive Internet market, MCI (MCIC) has been aligning itself with several heavy hitters and strengthening its infrastructure in what appears to be a renewed push online.

Today MCI announced an alliance with WebTV Networks to provide Internet access for WebTV and its own customers under a new service plan dubbed "WebTV from MCI Internet." The service will be available nationwide in areas covered by MCI's network.

Under the new plan, customers will pay an introductory rate of $14.95 per month. After that, the monthly fee remains at $14.95 for MCI long distance subscribers and reverts to the standard rate of $19.95 for all others. MCI also will provide customer support and billing for "WebTV from MCI" customers.

The announcement comes on the heels of a deal made with Microsoft Network, whereby MCI says it will be the first to resell premium content from the Microsoft Network. WebTV Networks also is a subsidiary of Microsoft.

Under that deal, the telco is on one hand looking to further extend its reach into the content business, which analysts say is becoming increasingly important in the struggle to garner subscribers. Even the companies offering high-speed Net access via cable, such as @Home and Time Warner's Road Runner, are stepping up efforts to offer premium content, since the higher speeds are not yet enough to draw customers who are used to getting it all--content, email, and access--from online services such as America Online. (See related story)

At the same time, MCI is not ignoring the speed factor. Earlier this month, it joined the laundry list of Internet service providers in offering 56-kbps dial-up access, twice the speed of the standard home connection. (See related story)

Finally, MCI is also looking to appeal to customers through their wallets. Under the agreement with MSN, MCI Internet customers will be able to access MSN's content for free. MSN paid services include the Microsoft Outlook Express e-mail and newsgroup client, the MSN QuickView notification and navigation tool, and proprietary content from Web partners such as CBS SportsLine, Disney, and Yahoo Get Local, among others.

"MCI is committed to bringing the best content and value to its Internet customers," said David Trachtenberg, MCI director of brand marketing, in a statement. "With the addition of MSN premium content, MCI Internet continues to be one of the most comprehensive offerings around."

The telecommunications giant, which merged last month with WorldCom, also announced yesterday a strategic alliance with Charles Schwab, in which Charles Schwab will distribute a CD-ROM cobranded with MCI called "Schwab Investor's Web Kit," which contains tools for customers to start investing online.

The CD-ROM includes an interactive tour of Schwab's Web site, including trading, research, and account features. The CD-ROM also contains MCI's branded Internet Explorer browser and Schwab's online account applications. Those who sign on get a month's worth of Net access free, followed by the standard $19.95 per month charge.

MCI also said yesterday that it doubled the core circuit capacity of its Internet backbone to dual 622 megabits per second and added more than 4,000 access ports to accommodate Internet traffic growth.