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AOL extending its hospitality

America Online launched a Web-hosting service called PrimeHost.

America Online continued to expand its menu of Internet services today with the launch of a Web-hosting service called PrimeHost.

AOL's is out to redefine itself as a new media company with a long list of complementary but separate services, rather than focus solely on its the online service that has been its cash cow. Last month, AOL became the advertising broker for Netscape Communications' highly popular Web site and then expanded ad sales on its own proprietary service.

Now, AOL is muscling in on the Web-hosting market, a rapidly growing field that does all the server-maintenance grunt work for companies that want sites but not the hassle of servers, storage, and bandwidth.

Up to now, Internet service providers and a few expensive ad agencies have been the primary sources for hosting third-party Web sites, often in deals bundled with design and promotion. But AOL is leaving the site design to its customers, preferring to simply open up its extensive infrastructure to outside companies.

AOL will offer three levels of hosting service:
--Domain. This will set up small businesses with a unique domain name and Web address and up to 50MB of disk storage. This service will cost $199 in start-up fees, plus $100 for a two-year domain name registration, plus a $99 monthly fee.
--Commercial. This service, targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, allots up to 100MB of disk storage and lets users add forms and data collection to their Web sites for connecting the hosted sites to back-end databases. The price is $249 for start-up fees, plus the $100 domain name registration and another $199 a month.
--Dedicated. Tailored for large businesses, this version includes dedicated server hardware and software with at least 4GB of storage. The service costs $499 to start up, $100 for the domain name, and $1,799 per month.

For each service, PrimeHost will register the domain name with InterNIC, provide seven-day-a-week customer support, and monitor site usage. All customers also get remote authoring tools and pre-designed templates to build commerce-oriented sites.

Meanwhile, other Web-hosting companies are already struggling to differentiate their services from each other's. A chain of hosting bureaus called USWeb today teamed up with the Recreational Software Advisory Council to add RSAC's content rating system to all sites created by USWeb.

The rating system, called RSACi, requires a Webmaster to fill out a detailed questionnaire on specific content. The answers are then translated into a rating for categories such as sex, nudity, violence, and hate speech. Browsers then read those codes and block or limit access to the page, according to the limits set in advance by the user.

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