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Prodigy to roll out Net-only service

Prodigy unfurled plans to offer an Internet-only service on a trial basis in the New York metro area starting on March 19. The service will be offered nationwide by late spring.

NEW YORK--In a bid to pull even with key rivals, Prodigy Services announced here late Friday at the Internet World Home & Office Expo that it will soon launch its promised Internet-only access product. However, the service will be available initially on a trial basis only to current Prodigy members in the New York metropolitan area starting March 19.

The service, which is so far unnamed, will be available nationwide by late spring, said Chip Austin, Prodigy's vice president and general manager of Internet services. Prodigy will charge $1 per hour for the service.

Austin said the unique pay-as-you-go pricing structure will target new Internet users as well as "switchers"--users who currently pay a flat $20 or so per month for unlimited Internet access but don't actually spend that much time on the Net. The pricing structure could change before the national rollout, depending on user response, added Austin.

The new Internet-only access product will use Netscape Communications' Navigator 2.0 browser. The product, which will be offered over a fully compliant TCP/IP network, also includes Internet Relay Chat as well as connectivity software for ftp and Telnet.

Austin said the new Web-centric service should not cannibalize Prodigy's core proprietary service. "In fact, we're hoping this will help us add new subscribers." Prodigy currently claims 2 million subscribers.

The new product rollout comes at a time when Prodigy's future is in doubt. Its parents, Sears and IBM, which each hold a 50 percent stake, are mulling selling their interest after pumping some $1 billion over the past decade into the venture. Austin said with the help of the Internet service and a new management tream, Prodigy could well be profitable this year.

Also at the show, Prodigy officials announced a partnership program, called The service will let businesses resell the Internet product.