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Prank puts @Home page on DSL rival's domain

Potential customers of the phone and Internet service provider Pacific Bell are greeted with a Web page for rival high-speed Net access company Excite@Home.

For a few disorienting days, Excite@Home and Pacific Bell--arch rivals in the market for high-speed Net access--have been living together under the same virtual roof.

Web surfers going to would expect to find information about the products and services offered by the local phone company that operates primarily on the West Coast. Instead, potential Pacific Bell customers are greeted with a fully operational Web page for Excite@Home, which markets high-speed Net access over cable TV systems.

The site appears to be the work of a Pacific Bell customer in Santa Ana, Calif., named Mike Mead, according to online domain name registration records.

Mead responded to questions through his attorney, David Gentry, who said the Santa Ana resident did register the domain name, but was not responsible for the prank.

"He didn't point it over there," Gentry said, adding that somebody had apparently hacked the domain name to go to Excite@Home's page last week. "We've been making phone calls (to Pacific Bell) ever since, telling them that we'll get it redirected and that we had nothing to do with it."

The domain had originally pointed nowhere, Gentry said. He said he didn't know what Mead had planned to do with the Web address.

Pacific Bell and Excite@Home have been in a public snarling match for months over claims each is making about the quality and reliability of the others' competing high-speed Internet technologies.

Excite@Home, the temporary beneficiary of the prank, today disclaimed any responsibility for the site, saying that company employees saw it for the first time on Friday.

"We didn't do anything to seed this," said Alison Bowman, an Excite@Home spokeswoman. The company notified Pacific Bell after a systems administrator noticed the redirected domain, she added.

A Pacific Bell representative said the company is looking into the situation but declined to comment further.

The telephone company, which offers digital subscriber line (DSL) service, has been running humorous TV ads noting that cable modem downloads can slow down as more people sign onto the service in a given neighborhood. The series warns of cable modem "Web hogs" and ends with the Pacific Bell tag line: "Always Fast. Never Shared."

Early this month, Excite@Home threatened to sue the phone company over the ads, saying they misled customers to believe that DSL guaranteed download speeds through a "non-shared" network. Facing the legal threat, Pacific Bell added a small disclaimer noting that their service offers dedicated access only between the customer's home and the phone company's local switching facility.

That means that downloads can still be slowed by traffic jams on the Net beyond that stretch of the network.

The domain name was legally registered to Mead, according to Network Solutions' records. But that doesn't mean Mead will get to keep it.

Under domain-name dispute resolution policies, any name that appears to have been registered in "bad faith"--in clear violation of trademark rights, for example--can be put on hold by the registrar while the issue goes to courts or to arbitration.

Pacific Bell, which is owned by Texas-based SBC Communications, has long used the domain for its corporate Web site.