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US West expands discount DSL plans

The telephone firm increases the availability of an innovative, discount high-speed Internet service, raising the stakes in an experiment designed to entice a mass audience to the broadband Net.

US West is expanding the availability of an innovative, discount high-speed Internet service, raising the stakes in an experiment designed to entice a mass audience to the broadband Net.

The telco has been testing a unique see related story: DSL discounts come at a
price high-speed Internet access service that shares some of the weaknesses of a dial-up modem, but comes at a substantial discount to other similar technologies. As of today, company executives said, the cut-rate service will be available in close to 40 cities around US West's territory.

The new offering is based on US West's digital subscriber line (DSL) service, a technology that allows existing telephone lines to be used simultaneously for high-speed Internet access and ordinary telephone traffic. It is the main competitor to cable modem services from companies like Excite@Home and Road Runner.

Dubbed "MegaBit Select," US West's new service has the same speed as basic DSL offerings--an average of 256 kilobits per second, or about four and a half times faster than the fastest dial-up modem. But unlike other "always on" broadband Internet services, the service requires a consumer to log on, and will sever a connection if the consumer stays online too long.

Along with the sacrifices comes the cheapest price tag on any DSL service. US West is charging $19.95 per month for the connection itself, and another $17.95 per month for Internet service, for total of $37.90 per month. Most other DSL services start at nearly $50, while an average cable modem connection ranges between $40 and $45.

Other Bell telephone companies are watching US West's offering with interest, but have not yet followed suit. Analysts' opinions about the service have been mixed, with some predicting consumers won't like the possibility of busy signals and disconnects, and others countering that it will make a good starter service for people who want a cheap way to try out the high-speed Net.

US West, which has been the most aggressive local phone company in introducing the technology across its service area, has cast the discount DSL service as a way to bring casual and recreational Net surfers into the high-speed arena.

"[This] will dramatically accelerate the use of high-speed Internet services by mass-market consumers," said Joe Zell, president of the company's high-speed Internet division, in a statement. "[This service] is perfect for the majority of home Internet users."

The service will be immediately available in most of the cities where US West has deployed DSL technology, the company said. Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, will be added to the list next month.