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Sprint to start own DSL services

The nation's third largest long distance company will roll out high-speed digital subscriber lines (DSL) around the country beginning next year.

Sprint, the nation's third largest long distance company, said today it would roll out high-speed digital subscriber lines (DSL) in urban areas around the country beginning next year.

The campaign marks a strategic switch in direction for the company, which had planned to piggyback on local phone companies' DSL plans.

But company officials said today that they wanted more control over where their services would be located, and how they would be rolled out. Sprint plans to install its own lines linking customers to its central network in 35 cities over the next two years, they said.

"It's kind of a strategic change," said Lloyd Karnes, a spokesperson for the company. "We decided it made more sense to do it ourselves where we could."

DSL access technologies have enjoyed new interest in the last few months as telephone companies race to catch up with cable Net access providers like @Home.

The company's announcement follows similar plans from rival MCI WorldCom, which said last month that it would roll out DSL services with up to 600 points of presence by next March.

But Sprint's initial strategy will be different. While MCI will offer its service to large and small businesses, and to consumers through service providers like America Online and EarthLink Network, Sprint will keep much of its early focus on large businesses, company officials said.

The service will be used to connect customers to Sprint's ION, or Integrated On-Demand Network, a high-bandwidth network that can be used for a full package of telecommunications services including voice, data, video and fax. The ION service is still in beta, but will be offered to large companies in the first half of next year, officials said.

With DSL access lines, businesses would be able to get access speeds of up to 8 Mbps to the central ION network, officials said.

Analysts welcomed Sprint's decision to roll out the end-points of the networks itself, saying it made more sense than relying on the local phone companies for the access.

"They hold all the cards now," said Michele Pelino, a broadband analyst with the Yankee Group. "Now they can control where they can deploy, how they can deploy, and when they can deploy. It's a much better strategy overall."

The Baby Bell companies have been slow to roll out DSL service in many parts of the country, in part due to regulations that the companies say hamper their ability to offer the service profitably. A group of prominent computer companies joined with the local phone companies last week to petition the Federal Communications Commission to avoid regulating DSL service any further.

Sprint also said today that its local service division would begin rolling out a stand-alone asymmetric DSL service for small businesses and consumers who want high-speed Internet access.

That project will be tested in Charlottesville, Virginia, beginning in May 1999, and will be followed by limited commercial launches in Las Vegas, Nevada, Kansas City, Missouri, and Orlando, Florida, in late 1999.

Sprint shares were up nearly 3.5 at midday trading.