Last week, Microsoft Network proposed the same pricing in rolling out its newly revamped service. And as early as next week, America Online is expected to announce a similar if not identical flat-rate pricing plan, as previously reported by CNET.
CompuServe, the second-largest online service, also is mulling a new pricing scheme. AOL and CompuServe have 11 million customers combined.
Prodigy, which ranks just behind MSN, is offering a second pricing plan for its revamped service, which launches Monday. Dubbed the "basic plan," it will be $9.95 a month for ten hours of usage and $2.50 for each additional hour.
Prodigy's move signals the push by online services not only to battle each other, but also to dominate the Net access market, where no-frills Internet service providers traditionally have held the pricing advantage. Those ISPs typically don't have the breadth of content that online services do.
A Netcom spokeswoman said today that the company is not too concerned about Prodigy's move, however, because the ISP is shifting its efforts away from the mass market and toward the business and high-end users.
"We're sort of all coming to the same conclusion: that the Internet is the place to be," Prodigy spokesman Mike Darcy said today.
And customers want to know ahead of time just how much they'll pay for that access. "One of the consistent requests we get from members is for unlimited access," Darcy said. "If you want to compete in this marketplace, this is definitely something you have to offer."
MSN and Prodigy will have firewalls that separate their proprietary content from the rest of the Internet. But both allow their members to go anywhere on the Net without having to switch from a proprietary platform to a Web browser, a move that often confuses novices.
Prodigy also said it will begin a Spanish version of Prodigy Internet, to be offered in Mexico in the first quarter of next year. Latin America is a fast-growing market for online services and ISPs.
The company announced a licensing deal with Progressive Networks to provide its RealAudio streaming technology for Prodigy Internet.