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Tellme's Net phone service clogged by high demand

The start-up unveils a service that lets people talk to their phones to get information from the Internet but is knocked offline almost immediately by high customer demand.

Start-up Tellme Networks today unveiled a service that lets people talk to their phones to get information from the Internet, but it was knocked offline almost immediately by high customer demand.

The new site is one of several competing services that allow customers to browse pieces of the Web by talking directly into a phone. Through Tellme, callers will have access to information on restaurants, airlines, news, weather conditions and stock quotes, the company said.

After dropping hints about its service for months and piquing consumers' interest, TellMe wasn't able to keep up with demand today, however.

The Tellme Web site was supposed to be accessible for an "early trial" nationwide but was knocked offline by an avalanche of interest this morning, the company said. By late in the day, the company was telling its customers that they likely wouldn't have service for several weeks.

The traffic flood also put the company behind in responding to its customers, chief executive Mike McCue wrote in an email to CNET Several readers also wrote in saying they had signed up today but had heard no response from the company.

By the end of the day, Tellme was again returning email quickly but telling potential customers they'd have to wait to get service.

"Please bear with us," the company wrote in response to a registration. "Due to the great response we've received, it may be up to several weeks before we can provide you with access."

Tellme hits the market as numerous companies are introducing services that combine the phone with the Web for customers who aren't pinned to their PCs. Already, Web portals such as Yahoo are beginning to look to the telephone as a new means of reaching people who are not online.

Start-ups such as Tellme and Telsurf Networks, which debuted in February, provide services that read email, stock quotes, sports scores or even limited Web pages to their subscribers.

Mike McCue,
founder and CEO of, discusses the company's new phone Internet service.
After dialing the toll-free number into Tellme, callers will be able to surf the service by saying keywords such as "restaurants" to find and connect with any restaurant in the United States based on the establishment's name, cuisine type or location. Consumers can speak the keyword "traffic" to find the fastest route to work with traffic reports in major cities updated throughout the day.

As Tellme expands its Web site's capacity, people signed up for the early trial will be given the toll-free number and a personal access code. The company, founded last February, said it expects to remove the sign-up requirement and to release the Tellme number to the general public this summer.

The privately held firm has attracted executives from Netscape, Microsoft and Nokia. Its investors include Benchmark Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and The Barksdale Group.