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Pac Bell chimes in with Net service

Pacific Bell will give residents in much of California one more option for Net access.

Residents for huge sections of California now have one more option for logging on to the Net.

Pacific Bell today officially announced its Internet dial-up access service for the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles, regions that comprise about 75 percent of the telephone company's residential customer base. Service to Stockton and Fresno is scheduled for this summer and the company projects that it will offer service to about 90 percent of all California residential and small business users by early 1997.

Dubbed Pacific Bell Internet, the service was originally scheduled to launch last month but was delayed because of unspecified problems with the networking software. But the company says its customers will not experience the problems that some AT&T WorldNet users encountered after that service's much-publicized launch.

"We're confident that we can handle any volume of users," said Rick Hronicek, president of Pacific Bell Internet.

Pac Bell will offer customers a two-tiered pricing structure. The "Basic Access" plan charges $9.95 a month for up to 10 hours and $1 for each additional hour; the "Carefree Access" plan charges $14.95 a month for up to 20 hours and 50 cents for each additional hour. But no matter how many hours a user spends online, the charges will not exceed $19.95 a month. For customers who sign up before September 1, the company will waive the one-time set-up fee of $14.95 and offer a month of free unlimited access.

Pac Bell will not offer access to Macintosh users until at least mid-June, blaming the delay on the fact that Netscape Communications has not yet delivered the Macintosh version of its browser to Pac Bell beta testers. The service uses a Pac Bell-branded version of Netscape's Navigator 2.0, although it will support the use of other browsers, according to a Pac Bell spokesman.

As an added incentive to sign up, Pacific Bell Internet is also promising to provide users with At Hand, its upcoming Web-based version of a statewide yellow pages enhanced with editorial content and a Web-hosting service, as well as the SurfWatch parental control software. The service will also offer its customers cut-rate access to America Online, although pricing and availability have not been announced.

Pacific Bell also plans to offer an integrated ISDN package to residents and small businesses at the end of June, according to Mark Fisher, Pacific Bell Internet Services vice president of marketing. Customers will be able to order an ISDN line, an Internet account, and all necessary hardware and software directly from the telephone company. Pricing will be announced at launch.

As the first Baby Bell to deliver a broad dial-up access plan--although Bell Atlantic has announced its plans to offer Net access--Pac Bell is eager to tap into the lucrative California market, which it says accounts for 35 percent to 40 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic. If Pacific Telesis's merger with Southwestern Bell is approved, the company's Internet access service will expand to seven states with headquarters remaining in California.

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