Email will likely be only the first of a number of new content and software services from the cable-based Internet provider, said Matt Wolfrom, a spokesman for the company.
Going forward, @Home in many ways will begin to function as an application clearinghouse for Internet cable. @Home will not only come up with new services, which may include e-commerce services or services that allow users to view shows from different camera angles, but also work with third parties to determine other services and technologies that fit within the established Open Cable standard.
"Basically, TCI is tapping @Home to help them with the TV part" of Internet cable, said Michael Harris, president of Kinetic Strategies.
Under the email portion of the deal, @Home will develop a series of email services that ordinary cable subscribers can obtain through TCI's next generation of set-top boxes, to be released early next year.
At a base level, customers will get one-way email service. Two-way service, which will allow cable customers to send messages as well as receive spam, will be provided for a fee or given away as an advertiser-supported service. "We're looking for anchor tenants to service it right now," Wolfrom said.
More complex email--which will allow home users to send photos or video segments across the Web--will probably be available for a higher price. In addition, @Home will provide its full cable Internet service to set-top box users.
All of these set-top box customers will represent new subscribers to @Home. Currently, the service is available through cable modems hooked up to a PC.
Other services and applications should follow, Wolfrom said. Hyperlinked advertising is one idea for an application that is currently being kicked around. Under this service, @Home would work with advertisers to invent ways for consumers to link from ads to purchasing or information sites. Advertisers would pay for the privilege.
To ensure that these applications work, the company is taking on the larger role of acting as a computer integrator on TCI's behalf in the advanced set-top box initiative. Early this year, TCI said it would order approximately 11 million advanced set-top boxes that would fuse cable and Internet service. Since that time, the cable giant has been selecting partners to provide the different parts needed in the finished box. Microsoft and Sun are providing operating systems for the TCI boxes while General Instrument will manufacture the hardware.
@Home's job will lay in ensuring that these disparate technologies can work together. Of course, the company will also develop technology to run on these platforms.
While this represents an expansion of @Home's connectivity business, Wolfrom said it does not constitute a radical departure for the company.
"We've been involved in the development cycle since the beginning," he said.
@Home's stock jumped nearly 17 percent in heavy trading today, ending at an all-time high of 33-15/16. The closing price was up 4-13/16 from Friday's close at 29-1/8.