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Broadband Excite may debut this fall

A new broadband version of Excite could be rolled out over @Home cable networks as soon as October, Excite CEO George Bell says.

A new broadband version of Excite could be rolled out over @Home cable networks as soon as October, Excite CEO George Bell said today.

In an interview with CNET News.com, Bell--who is transitioning into a new role as president of the combined Excite@Home--outlined the joint future of the two companies, which are hoping to nail down the top spot in the broadband media world. Shareholders of the two companies approved the $7.2 billion merger today.

The new company will continue to be split between its Internet access brand and the content service it hopes will become the leading broadband portal, Bell said.

The @Home name will be linked largely to the access side of the company as the brand under which the affiliated cable companies offer their high-speed Net access.

The multimedia programming created by @Home's @Media division will be folded into a new Excite-branded broadband content service, Bell said. That new set of Excite broadband pages should launch as the new @Home national content by October or November, replacing the existing service, he added.

The company will continue to function much like a broadband version of America Online, gaining revenue from both access fees and the advertising and marketing dollars from its media division.

The divisions reflect the new positions of each of the two companies' executives. As previously reported, current @Home CEO Tom Jermoluk will retain the chief executive role but will focus on strategic and access-focused operations, such as boosting the rate at which cable companies are signing up @Home subscribers.

Bell will focus on the day-to-day operations of the company, he said. The two companies already have been working under a new organizational structure for the last two weeks, in anticipation of an easy shareholder approval.

"We've really gone for it in terms of integrating the company in a complete and deep way from the get-go," Bell said.

Out-yahooing Yahoo?
By linking its future to the proprietary @Home service, which subscribers can get only through cable television wires, Excite is taking a risky bet on the outcome of the broadband battles.

Users will still be able to access Excite's traditional "narrowband" service on the public Internet. But chief competitor Yahoo has said repeatedly that it wants to avoid committing to any specific broadband access technology in order to reach the greatest number of subscribers possible.

But Bell said he and his new colleagues at @Home are trying to win broadband users' brand loyalty in much the way Yahoo did in the very early days of the dial-up Internet.

Yahoo started its directory service a good 18 months ahead of Excite, a head start that has proven a "formidable obstacle in terms of brand recognition," Bell said. "Now we're trying to take the first-mover advantage."

Linking Excite's star to the cable platform appeared to be the best bet, as telephone companies' rollouts of high-speed Net technologies are still hampered by regulation and turf battles, he said. And while he doesn't expect to be the only winner, now is the time to get in the game, he said.

"There won't be that many winners left standing at the end of the broadband battles," he said. "It may be that those who stay agnostic will find that they've been sitting on the sidelines while all the touchdowns were scored."

But the @Home link also will provide more than access to today's leading broadband platform. The cable net access company's chief stockholder is AT&T, which itself recently forged a $5 billion alliance with Microsoft.

The AT&T-Microsoft-Excite@Home troika will prove a powerful force in determining the content, technology, and subscriber growth of the developing broadband world, analysts have said.

Already, Excite and Microsoft have invested side by side in Web health site WebMD, a strategy that Bell said likely would be followed up with investments in other online businesses in the future.

"That was a pretty good example of what we'd like to do more of," Bell said. "We'd like to join forces as investors and partners, so we can anoint winners."