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Texas to try out DSL

Joining the flood of companies offering higher-speed Net access, Southwestern Bell is rolling out DSL service in Austin, Texas, on a trial basis.

Another Baby Bell, this time Southwestern Bell, is rolling out high-speed Net access over copper wires, or DSL, in the high-tech hub of Austin, Texas, on an experimental basis, executives disclosed today.

An announcement is expected tomorrow. This comes one day after Pacific Bell launched a DSL (digital subscriber line) market trial in Silicon Valley, taking on cable-modem providers such as @Home on their home turf. Both Baby Bells are owned by SBC Communications, and both regions, in Texas and California, are hotbeds of high-tech activity. SBC recently bought Pac Bell in one of the largest telco mergers to date.

"Right now, Southwestern Bell is offering FasTrak DSL service in Austin, Texas, on an experimental basis," reads a posting on the telco's Web site. "After the Austin trial concludes, we plan to offer FasTrak DSL in additional locations."

As with Pac Bell, Southwestern Bell is offering users two options: one with up to 384 kbps both downstream and upstream, and another with up to 1.5 mbps downstream and up to 384 kbps upstream. It typically takes five to 17 days to install the service.

Pac Bell said prices for FasTrak DSL service include a $125 installation fee, and will range from $80 per month and $250 per month for unlimited usage. Equipment such as an ADSL modem, a splitter that divides voice and data, and a network interface card to connect the modem and PC costs extra. This equipment could cost an estimated $425 to $660, a company spokesman said.

These trials come in the wake of US West's rollout of commercial DSL service in Phoenix, and are signs that the Baby Bells are gearing up to take on the cable-television industry in offering higher-speed Net access. @Home, which is based in Silicon Valley, offers its cable-access service in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Fremont, and soon will add Pleasanton, Castro Valley, and Livermore to the list. @Home also is expected to announce a content partnership for receiving video on demand from CNN, one of its biggest such deals to date.

The Baby Bells face stiff competition from the cable providers, which say they typically operate at speeds of 1.5 to 3 mbps for $40 to $45 per month. Time Warner's Road Runner is another provider that is ramping up its cable-modem service throughout the country.

The Bells also have to deal with criticism of their marketing efforts, and consumers have criticized Pac Bell and others for slow installation.

Pac Bell, for one, thinks it can weather the storm. "DSL will provide a dedicated data circuit, ensuring the same fast access to an online gateway every time," the company said in a Web posting. "Cable modems, on the other hand, operate on a shared network and will perform more slowly depending on the number of people and kinds of applications using the shared network simultaneously."