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Sprint guarantees Net service

Sprint announced new service guarantees in an attempt to tap cubicle dwellers' desire for the same fast Net access and tech support at home that they get at the office.

Tapping cubicle dwellers' desire for the same fast Net access and tech support at home that they get at the office, Sprint (FON) announced new customer service guarantees today.

From now on, the company says if Sprint Internet Passport customers get a busy signal when using a local dial-up number, they will be able to use an toll-free access number. If a connection still can't be made, users will get free access for a week, which is worth $5 and up to $19.95 per month.

"The motivation is to meet a consumer need that is really pressing in the industry," Jim Dodd, vice president of Sprint's Internet services said today. "This is for people for whom the Internet has become a mission-critical vehicle for communication or for getting information like stock quotes or for doing research."

Sprint also unveiled a new fee-based "Internet Personal Trainer" feature that will be available by the end of the year. Although the consultation rates haven't been set yet, trainers will help customers personalize their home pages, set up their modems, and help them use the latest push technology or perform Net searches.

The technical support may be something customers will expect for free. But the service is an example of Sprint's ongoing consideration of new pricing models, as the ISP has been expected to announce a new monthly rate this year.

"As all of our capabilities come to market and are brought together, I think it would be a good time to review our pricing structure," Dodd added.

To build up reliability, Sprint recently beefed up its backbone, added new modems, and used call-forwarding to reroute customers when network traffic gets too heavy in some areas. Once an industry standard is approved, Sprint plans to implement 56-kbps access as well.

Sprint's strategy to wrangle more customers by pitching reliable, speedy access comes in the wake of WorldCom's buyout of CompuServe, which helped the long distance company gain ground on more traditional telephone companies turned ISPs, such as AT&T and MCI Communications. Although WorldCom's Net access company, UUNet, has had network problems in the past, the telco is also vying for MCI's backbone, putting more pressure on Sprint and AT&T to secure their market share.