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Net appliance company woos seniors

The New Internet Computer Co., backed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, has cut a deal with Internet service provider Senior Explorer to provide its device to senior citizens.

The New Internet Computer Co., backed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, has found another niche market, cutting a deal to provide its device to senior citizens.

The agreement, reached with senior-oriented Internet service provider Senior Explorer, lets people 50 and older pay $30 a month for 36 months to get the Linux-based machine and a monitor, along with unlimited Internet access. The New Internet Computer typically sells for $200 without a monitor or Internet service.

"Seniors have always been a big customer of the NIC even though we've never targeted them," NIC Co. CEO Gina Smith said in an interview Monday, the day the deal was announced.

Smith said the company hopes to sell 25,000 of the devices through Senior Explorer this year and potentially several hundred thousand machines in the next few years.

San Francisco-based NIC Co. is one of the last companies selling a Web-surfing appliance. A flurry of entrants have bowed out of the Internet appliance market in the past 18 months, including Sony, 3Com, Netpliance and Gateway.

Smith said NIC Co. fell just short of its goal of shipping 100,000 units last year and reaching profitability. "We came very, very close," Smith said.

The company now hopes to turn a profit by late April, Smith said.

A source close to the company said it is near to announcing a deal with the U.S. government's Housing and Urban Development agency that would put 450,000 of the devices in the hands of those who live in low-income housing. The deal would be by far NIC Co.'s largest deal to date.