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Prodigy launches China service

Prodigy becomes the first foreign ISP to receive an endorsement from the Beijing government.

Prodigy today became the first foreign Internet service provider to receive China's endorsement.

Prodigy, in a joint venture with a Chinese government-run company, has formed the Shanghai Prodigy Telecommunications joint venture to offer Net access for about $32 a month to business people, consumers, and tourists. Users can access the service from many of the region's international hotels, the company said.

Within the next 12 months, the company will invest $50 million to expand services to nine other Chinese cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou, and Fujian.

The joint venture is 80 percent owned by the Medford, Massachusetts-based Prodigy. However, partner China North Industries, which makes everything from AK-47 assault rifles to perfume, will decide which Internet sites may be reached, according to a Prodigy spokesman.

Prodigy is using security software from Ascend Communications to block a list of sites per the request of the Chinese government, the spokesman said. Last year, Beijing sought to keep political and pornographic content from entering the country through the Net.

The efforts have been only partly successful and drawn criticism from human rights groups. The new Prodigy operation is also expected to face serious international scrutiny.

The president of the Shanghai Prodigy venture is a Chinese national named Tin Tse, who has held executive posts in both the United States and China, the Prodigy spokesman said.

Internet services will include original content in both English and Chinese as well as access to email, the Internet, bulletin boards, newsgroups, and other services, the company said.

Heralding the move as "Prodigy's first major steps outside of North America," the company said it will use a satellite transponder to link the Chinese cities in the Internet service, since China's telephone lines will not provide sufficient bandwidth to handle access requirements.

The company is also launching satellite network and messaging services across the region. Shanghai Prodigy Telecommunications has already signed up at least one customer to rent the bandwidth and private satellite network services in China. Guangzhou Horse Racing Entertainment is using Prodigy's satellite services to broadcast races live to remote betting stations throughout the Guangdong province, the company said.