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MCI WorldCom ready to unveil Net service

The long distance company is close to rolling out its long-awaited consumer Internet package, and may unveil the service next week, according to people close to the company.

MCI WorldCom is close to rolling out its long-awaited consumer Internet package, and may unveil the service next week, according to people close to the company.

The announcement may come as soon as Monday, although this date could be pushed back, sources said.

An MCI WorldCom spokeswoman declined comment, saying any speculation on the date of the announcement was "premature," and that plans have not been finalized.

The company has lacked a consumer Internet offering since the completion of the $40 billion merger between MCI and WorldCom four months ago. As a part of that deal, antitrust regulators forced MCI to sell off most of its Internet assets, including its consumer dial-up access service.

That left the combined company with a strong business Net component in WorldCom subsidiary UUNet, but without a consumer service.

The company has made no secret of the fact it has been developing a new service to compete for consumers' Internet dollars.

For the last several months, its Web site has told consumers to stand by for an announcement of a product dubbed MCI WorldCom Internet to replace the old MCI Internet dial-up service.

Once the rollout is complete, the company is likely to bundle the dial-up access service with other MCI WorldCom products, such as long distance, sources close to the company said. This strategy is also being pursued by AT&T and other telcos, who hope to make their Net products stand out in a crowded market with special bundled services.

The planned announcement may involve Vint Cerf, the MCI WorldCom senior vice president, who co-designed the Internet's TCP/IP protocol, sources said. Cerf is widely known in online circles as "the father of the Internet," and would lend the company's push back into the consumer market some online star power.

But despite its name recognition and national reach, the company has a long way to go to catch up in the consumer Internet market, analysts said.

AT&T's WorldNet service has close to 1.4 million subscribers, which itself pales in comparison next to America Online's 15 million customers. The leading independent national ISPs, MindSpring and EarthLink Network, each have more than a million subscribers.

"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."

The company quickly needs to pursue a marketing blitz for the service, as well as strike partnerships that can help drive people towards the new offering, Daniell Wigder said.

Bundling the service with other MCI WorldCom products is a good strategy, but the company lacks a key component that competitors have, she also noted. As a part of AT&T's developing package of phone and Net services, it offers wireless phone services though its new Personal Network plan.

MCI WorldCom has no internal wireless division, and so cannot do this as effectively, analysts said. "That's too bad, because we've seen a strong correlation between wireless and Internet use," Daniell Wigder said.

MCI has been among the most aggressive telcos in rolling out high-speed Internet services, however. It is in the middle of a rollout of digital subscriber lines (DSL) that is slated to include 600 points of presence by the end of March, according to company executives.

DSL is a technology that allows existing phone lines to be used for high-speed Net access and voice service simultaneously.

As a part of that effort, MCI Worldcom has ongoing trial projects with America Online and EarthLink.