Mar. 28--Pacific Bell wants to take California phone customers for a trip into cyberspace by offering a full range of Internet services.
The company today is announcing plans to provide customers with access to Internet features such as the go-go World Wide Web, the eclectic Usenet discussion groups, e-mail and database-searching functions such as gopher. Pacific Bell intends to launch its services in May in California, and says it will become the first of the seven Baby Bells to offer a full array of Internet services.
``We want to be waist-deep in this whole Internet stream,'' said Rick Hronicek, Pacific Bell's San Ramon-based executive vice president of advanced services. ``We plan to blanket the state.'' Pac Bell said it will deploy enough Internet gateway computers to ensure that customers who connect to the Internet via telephone will be able to make it a local call.
Pacific Bell's move shows the Internet has evolved beyond its origins as a high-tech hang-out and communications medium for scientists, professors,
government bureaucrats and computer cultists. The Internet has become a big business that is attracting major corporations who hunger after the electronic web's 25 million users.
``Like it or not, the Internet is hot, and you can't ignore it,'' said Peter Bernstein, president of infonautics Consulting Inc. of Ramsey, N.J. ``It's one of those things where you'd better be on the bandwagon or be in danger of getting run over by it.''
One of Pac Bell's biggest challenges is to be nimble enough to compete in the turbulent Internet market. Many companies are attempting to figure out if they can grab a piece of what could be a lucrative business -- or a bust,
since the Internet is uncharted commercial territory.
``The Baby Bells are getting more entrepreneurial,'' said LaGrow, publisher of Morph's Digital Outpost. ``Everyone wants to be there first and make a name for themselves.''
The entry of California's Baby Bell into the Internet market means the phone company and its parent, Pacific Telesis, with a combined $9.25 billion in yearly revenues, will bring a lot of financial muscle into this arena.
``Pacific Bell certainly heats up the competition among access providers,'' said Gregg McVicar, a partner in Pacific Multimedia, a Walnut Creek-based telecommunications research firm.
It will compete against Internet-access providers such as ccNet, NetRep, Fractal Images and Teirnet in the East Bay, and against San Jose-based NetCom.
Pacific Bell said its Internet prices will be competitive with current offerings. That means the company can be expected to charge $20 to $30 a month for switched access starting this fall, and $500 to more than $1,000 for specialized connections offered to business customers. Cisco Systems is providing Pac Bell with network hardware and Sun Microsystems is providing powerful computers for the new service.
For its Internet service, Pacific Bell is using Netscape software, a computer program that has become one of the hottest ways to surf the Internet. They also can buy goods and services and transmit their credit-card numbers over the network without fear of it being stolen.
``Netscape's encryption software means commerce can be transacted over the information highway,'' LaGrow said. END!A$3?CC-PACIFIC-BELL
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