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Third search deal for AT&T

AT&T and search firm Infoseek form a three-year Internet pact to provide a Web-based online service.

AT&T today inked yet another agreement with a Web gateway. This time it's a three-year deal with Infoseek to create a Web-based online service.

Today's announcement marks the third partnership in a week between the telecommunications giant and a Web gateway or "portal." Two days ago, AT&T signed a similar deal with Excite to bundle the two services into an online service. AT&T's flurry of Web portal deals began earlier this week when it teamed up with Lycos.

"We're going to take an agnostic approach to the issue," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel, referring to deals made with competing portal sites. "We want to reach everyone who communicates on the Net."

In March, Web portal leader Yahoo announced it would partner with AT&T rival MCI Communications to create a Web-based online service.

The terms of the deal will allow AT&T to feature its cobranded Personal Communications Center link on Infoseek's Web page. Users of the center will be able to sign up for a variety of AT&T communications services including long distance, wireless, and prepaid phone cards.

In addition, the two companies will launch a new Web-based online service called "Infoseek Online powered by AT&T WorldNet Service," which makes Infoseek's interface the default home page combined with AT&T Net access.

"Our plans are to develop some customization and personalization in that start page that allow our customization to create a very personalized start page," said Infoseek spokesman Doug Free.

Free also noted that under the terms of the partnership, the portal is free to pursue deals with other ISPs.

The cobranded service, as well as the Personal Communications Center links on Infoseek's home page, will be available in a few weeks, the firms said.

Siegel declined to reveal the pricing strategy for all three services announced this week. But he hinted that AT&T will announce other agreements with Web portals next week.

Today's deal marks the acceleration of a new trend on the Internet--the Web-based online service, which marries the Internet portal with the ISP. In a sense, the services closely resemble America Online's highly successful model of packaging together Internet access, aggregated content, e-commerce links, and community features into a one-stop shop.

The convergence of access providers and content-bolstered Internet gateways was not surprising to many analysts.

According to Andrea Williams, an analyst at Volpe Brown Whelan, the real winners from these partnerships are consumers, who now have a wider range of services and preferences from which to choose. On the flip side, the portal sites stand to gain a clearer perspective on their users' demographics.

"With the access piece, [portals] will have better access to information on their users. Sort of like the AOL model," said Williams. "With that information they can offer better targeting for their advertisers and their commerce partners."

The trend toward Web-based online services has not been exclusive to mainstream portal sites. Yesterday, credit card firm Discover entered into the fray when it announced it would join forces with Internet service provider EarthLink and content aggregator Planet Direct for an online service.