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Excite@Home and AT&T's WorldNet may join forces

AT&T's dial-up Internet service WorldNet and Excite@Home may join together as a result of Ma Bell's newfound control over the high-speed Net access company.

AT&T's dial-up Internet service WorldNet could be melded with Excite@Home as a result of Ma Bell's newfound control over the high-speed Net access company.

After strengthening its control over Excite@Home yesterday, AT&T may eventually play matchmaker between the two Net access services in order to offer its customers a full range of Internet speed options.

"We would expect that WorldNet and Excite@Home will work much closer together," said AT&T chief executive C. Michael Armstrong. "Obviously an 'any speed' collaboration is attractive. We hope to offer consumers low speed, medium speed and high speed and let them pay for what they want and upgrade as they go."

The idea of a direct partnership between WorldNet and Excite@Home is not new.

AT&T reportedly considered selling WorldNet, which claims more than 2 million customers, to Excite@Home early last year. Excite@Home's management had considered offering a dial-up service for months before finally settling on a 1stUp.com-powered service called FreeWorld.

This free Internet service, now called FreeLane following a name infringement lawsuit, left Ma Bell executives less than thrilled because of its competition with WorldNet.

A tight partnership between WorldNet and Excite@Home is likely to benefit both outfits, by giving WorldNet subscribers an obvious upgrade option--potentially at a discount--if they want higher-speed Internet service. From Excite@Home's perspective, gaining access to a large pool of current dial-up Net customers gives the company a ready-made batch of potential subscribers to whom it can market its cable-modem service.

Through its various assets, AT&T is able to offer its customers a variety of Net access options including free dial-up, monthly-fee dial-up, high-speed broadband services via cable modems or digital subscriber lines, and various corporate connection technologies.