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Bells here to stay as ISPs

Phone companies like Pacific Bell are making great strides in competing with the likes of Netcom, CompuServe, and America Online.

Jeff Pelline Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jeff Pelline is editor of CNET News.com. Jeff promises to buy a Toyota Prius once hybrid cars are allowed in the carpool lane with solo drivers.
Jeff Pelline
2 min read
The phone companies are making deeper inroads in the Internet access market.

Despite some growing pains, Pacific Bell (PAC) today confirmed that it has signed up more than 51,000 subscribers since launching in May, making it one of California's fastest-growing ISP start-ups.

As reported by CNET, it marks the first time that Pac Bell has disclosed any figures about its service.

In addition, Sprint is close to inking a deal with Microsoft for including its Internet Explorer Web browser, along with Netscape's Navigator.

Pacific Bell and Bell Atlantic, another Baby Bell offering Internet access, are not far behind in clinching deals with Microsoft, either.

Taken together, the activity shows that the telcos are making great strides in competing with the likes of industry giants such as Netcom, CompuServe, and America Online.

That's not to say there have been hiccups. Some consumers have complained that it takes too long to receive technical support. Some competing ISPs have also said that it takes too long to get connections from Pac Bell.

Pac Bell denies these charges, but concedes it is ramping up its technical support staff. The company's job postings on its Web page listed 19 openings for that position.

Later this year, the company planned to roll out the service bundled with ISDN and AOL, although Mark Fisher, vice president of marketing at Pacific Bell Internet Services, conceded today that PacBell's Internet marketing alliance with America Online was behind schedule and wouldn't be launched until the start of next year.

The deal is supposed to let PacBell customers tap into AOL from the PacBell Internet-access service.

He said the service is still on a rapid expansion expansion plan, however. For example, it will be offered in Reno, Nevada, by year's end.

PacBell also will be offering SurfWatch's filtering software, guest email boxes for family members, and custom home pages.

Pacific Bell said it has received 75,000 requests for software, which is delivered on average within four days. More than 70 percent of subscribers are being billed directly on their phone bill.

Users are averaging more than 2 million minutes of use per day on the service. "The amount of Internet traffic that moves through our network every day equals that seen by national Internet service providers," said Rick Hronicek, president of Pacific Bell Internet Services.

"Other ISPs have felt compelled to give away Internet access to get subscribers, but the thousands of new orders pouring into our service every day tell us differently," he added.