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Sprint mulls new pricing plan

Sprint Internet Access Services expects to come up with a new pricing plan for its retail Net-access product within 60 to 90 days.

Sprint (FON) Internet Access Services expects to come up with a new pricing plan for its retail Net access product within 60 to 90 days and will soon add chat as a feature, Jim Dodd, vice president of the group, told CNET today.

The company is looking at offering a discount to customers who sign up with other Sprint products, such as long distance calling and paging. It also may charge extra for premium content, such as multiplayer games, just like cable television companies charge for "premium" channels such as HBO. Like many Internet service providers (ISP), Sprint now charges $19.95 per month for unlimited Net access.

In an interview at Spring Comdex, Dodd also said:

  • Sprint will announce later this month that its Internet Passport members can soon chat with other Netizens about their favorite subjects under a deal with ichat. Users will jump from their home page to a Sprint chat room, dubbed "the lobby," where they can choose channels for chats.

  • The company is looking for publishers to manage a jointly owned navigation page for Passport. Sprint executives have talked with Viacom and Disney, among others. "They would help us aggregate content to create context," Dodd said. But he cautioned again that no deal has been finalized.

  • Sprint today is announcing it is teaming up with Showtime Networks to create a cobranded product. Sprint Internet Passport-Showtime edition brings customers directly to the Showtime site, making it easier to access the entertainment content.

    On the pricing front, Dodd cautioned that no decision has been made. The company has been meeting with customer focus groups to come up with a new plan. As CNET'S NEWS.COM reported in February, Sprint indicated it was going to move away from the $19.95 "all you can eat" pricing, largely to make the service profitable. But the effort was in the preliminary stages.

    One idea then was to charge extra for "premium" service, akin to the strategy recently adopted by Netcom. But Dodd said today that he wasn't sure the idea would fly with consumers. He held out the possibility that it might be adopted down the road.

    Sprint's pricing efforts are being closely watched as the entire industry looks for ways to make Net access more profitable. The company's parent, Sprint Corporation, is known for revolutionary pricing strategies. It launched the flat-rate charge for phone calls that companies such as AT&T have since adopted. The company's spokeswoman is actress Candice Bergen, known affectionately as the "dime lady" in television commercials for the 10 cents per-minute plan that the company adopted.

    Sprint is not alone in considering a new pricing plan. AT&T WorldNet also has suggested that it may want to change its pricing, although it has not offered details.

    Sprint launched its Net access in December, and it has 90,000 members. Dodd disclosed today that the retail Net access remains unprofitable, just as many other ISPs.

    Dodd said the company will continue a two-pronged strategy: to bundle Net access with other Sprint products and to cobrand with partners such as Showtime. Other such deals, with NetPlay, Simon & Schuster, and the California Medical Association, already have been announced.