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Net access to come at Wal-Mart prices

The retailer and America Online plan to introduce a new, CompuServe-like Internet service priced at less than $10 per month.

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Wal-Mart and AOL Time Warner's America Online division plan to introduce a new Internet service in an effort to drive shoppers onto the Internet.

The service, with a working name of "Wal-Mart Connect," would be hosted on CompuServe, a subsidiary of AOL. It will offer content and features similar to those found on CompuServe, with additional programming from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart Connect will cost less than $10 a month and will be offered in stores sometime this fall, the companies said.

The new online service stems from an agreement signed by Wal-Mart and AOL in December 1999. At the time, the deal was one of a spate of agreements between online giants and traditional retailers. In late 1999, AOL struck deals with Wal-Mart and Circuit City to distribute CD-ROMs or host kiosks to let shoppers use its service. Meanwhile, Microsoft inked deals with RadioShack and Best Buy to promote its Microsoft Network Web products.

The announcement in 1999 also mentioned partnering with CompuServe to create a lower cost option. But the service will not officially launch until nearly two years after the announcement.

Wal-Mart blamed the delays on a series of initiatives to bolster its Web presence with WalMart.com. Since December 1999, WalMart.com has been spun off into an independent company based in Silicon Valley, moved its operations onto a different platform, and redesigned its site.

These factors, according to the company, contributed to the delay in launching its Internet service with CompuServe.

"As we are going through changes, we're carefully evaluating to make sure our decisions were right for our company and our strategy," said Cynthia Lin, a WalMart.com spokeswoman.

Although no other brick-and-mortar retailer has more customers than Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart in the offline world, WalMart.com has failed to build anything comparable on the Web.

In the past, WalMart.com has struggled with technical issues with its Web site. In October, the company shut down much of its Web operations to complete a site redesign, the second in less than a year. Shortly after, the site stalled and crashed several times.

In February, WalMart.com trimmed its work force by 24 jobs, a small percentage of the company.

News.com's Greg Sandoval contributed to this report.