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MCI WorldCom back in consumer Net biz

The long distance company launches its consumer Internet service, hoping to win some market share from America Online and AT&T WorldNet.

MCI WorldCom has launched its consumer Internet service, hoping to win some market share from leaders America Online and AT&T WorldNet.

The service is designed both to bring the company back into the consumer Internet market and to funnel home Net users into MCI WorldCom's core long distance business.

The new MCI WorldCom Internet service will draw content from America Online's CompuServe division, creating a portal-like start page for subscribers.

The service will cost $16.95 for the first 150 hours of use, with each additional hour at 99 cents. Customers who are also MCI WorldCom long distance subscribers--or who sign up for traditional phone service--will keep that rate, while other users will pay a monthly fee of $19.95, according to information posted on the company's Web site.

The company will formally announce the service and release more details later in the week, a company spokeswoman said.

The company also will offer bonus frequent flyer miles with one of eight different airlines to subscribers who sign up through one of MCI WorldCom's airline partner programs.

MCI lost its original consumer Internet service last year, when antitrust regulators determined that the combined MCI WorldCom would control too much of the Internet's infrastructure. MCI was forced to sell off its Net backbone and access service, both of which went to Cable &Wireless, as part of its merger deal.

The company's UUNet subsidiary, however, has remained one of the top business-focused ISPs. But the company has lacked a consumer Net presence for months.

Analysts said MCI WorldCom has a daunting task in front of it trying to recreate its consumer Net service from scratch.

"They've really fallen by the wayside," said Zia Daniell Wigder, an industry analyst with Jupiter Communications. "They definitely have the opportunity to refocus. But they've fallen behind."

Competitor AT&T has made substantial steps forward in developing its Internet strategy. As a part of its acquisition of cable company Tele-Communications Incorporated, AT&T will take control of cable Net access company @Home, which recently signed a merger deal with Internet portal Excite.

AT&T also is reportedly considering merging its WorldNet service into @Home, in order to keep its Internet products under a single brand. WorldNet currently has about 1.4 million subscribers, while @Home's high-speed service has about 330,000.