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SBC opens up Wi-Fi roaming

The carrier will give its broadband subscribers access to 3,900 hot spots for $1.99 a month.

SBC Communications said Monday that it is now offering its Wi-Fi service for a special rate to its DSL subscribers.

The company said subscribers of the SBC Yahoo broadband service can access the FreedomLink Wi-Fi service for an additional monthly fee of $1.99. Additionally, new subscribers to the carrier's DSL service will get hot-spot access for free through April 15.

For people who do not subscribe to the DSL offering, the monthly fee for the Wi-Fi service is $19.95, SBC said. Both DSL subscribers and nonsubscribers will have to sign up for a minimum of one year.

The FreedomLink network connects 3,900 locations, including airports, hotels and coffee shops, as well as UPS stores and some McDonald's outlets. SBC said it plans to increase the number of hot-spot locations to 20,000 by the end of 2006.

An estimated 63 million people use broadband at home, making up 51 percent of the total U.S. Internet population, according to a recent Nielsen/NetRatings study. The Baby Bell phone companies--SBC, BellSouth, Qwest Communications International and Verizon Communications--have reported strong subscriber growth over the past year. Although cable companies have higher market share than the Bells in the broadband market, their growth is slower than that of DSL.

In a statement, SBC said its Wi-Fi offer will help differentiate the carrier's service from that of cable companies.

"By creating a bundle that includes both services for as little as $29, we're dramatically enhancing the value of our DSL service," Scott Helbing, SBC's senior vice president of consumer marketing, said in a statement.