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MCI Worldcom exec touts DSL service

Vice chairman John Sidgmore spices up his keynote with a bit of news to cheer Net users--nationwide DSL rollout.

LAS VEGAS--MCI Worldcom vice chairman John Sidgmore spiced up his routinely perky keynote speech with a bit of news sure to cheer Net users frustrated by slow connections--the company is beginning a nationwide rollout of its fast DSL Internet access service.

"We have to make everything very much faster," said Sidgmore, who is also chairman of MCI Worldcom's ISP subsidiary UUNet, today at Comdex. "Speed is going to count a lot."

"We think the technology with the near-term potential is DSL (digital subscriber line). It's always had potential, but it's been elusive in deployment," he said, in announcing a national rollout of the service. (See related story.)

"We think the natural advantages of DSL will fundamentally change the online experience," he added, mentioning not only faster responses but also that a DSL connection can be left on all the time, enabling new kinds of applications that run while users aren't in front of their PCs.

The proliferation of Internet-aware devices--fax machines, cellular phones, PCs, Web phones--create new demands on the network, Sidgmore said. For instance, "silicon cockroaches" such as software agents that communicate from computer to computer without human interactions, will eat up ever-mounting bandwidth.

In a separate vein, Sidgmore sketched his company's business strategy. "Deregulation and the Internet have fundamentally changed the telecommunications industry," he began.

"We have bet the ranch on the Internet. We see the Internet winner being the winner in the entire communications industry over the next few years," he revealed, noting that Worldcom has made 68 acquisitions and invested $12 billion to meet growing Internet demand, a pattern that has forced him to spend considerable time with federal antitrust regulators.

But he campaigned against the notion, pushed by UUNet customers like Microsoft's Bill Gates, that high bandwidth will be cheap to users.

"Gates thinks bandwidth should be free--we think software should be free," he said to laughter from the audience. "We are not going to provide high-speed access from Las Vegas to Frankfurt, Germany, for $20 per month."

Identifying a "fundamental disconnect" between demand for Internet bandwidth and technologies to provide it, Sidgmore sounded an optimistic note.

"New technologies will save us, as always," he said, mentioning new caching software and mirroring technology. "We don't have all answers. The required technology to solve the problems does not exist yet, but I am very confident that it will."

Sidgmore predicted wars between telecommunications equipment providers like Lucent and computer networking providers like Cisco Systems and Ascend.

"We will see technology improvements come at a pace like no one has ever seen before. Everyone is desperate to win," he said. "In 40 to 50 years, people are going to look back at this time and say, 'It was the golden age of communications.'"