- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Comcast Corp. announced yesterday it would begin offering a choice of Internet-service providers on its high-speed network.
Customers in Nashville, Tenn., and Indianapolis within 90 days will be able to subscribe to Comcast's own high-speed service or that of United Online Inc., owner of NetZero and Juno Internet services.
By the end of 2002, the company expects to offer the competing service to all customers in the company's current area, including the District of Columbia, Maryland and parts of Northern Virginia. It has 950,000 high-speed customers nationwide. United Online has about 1.46 million paying customers and 4.1 million customers using its free services.
Until late last year, Comcast, the nation's third-largest cable company, had been contractually bound to offer only [email protected] Internet service. But after [email protected] went bankrupt in December, Comcast hastily built a high-speed network and began offering its own service.
"We have moved quickly to provide customers with true choice and value, while creating sound business opportunities for United Online and Comcast," Comcast President Brian Roberts said in a conference call yesterday.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but under the agreement, United Online will not be responsible for any upkeep or maintenance of the high-speed network, and all customer-service claims will be handled by Comcast. Users of NetZero and Juno who switch to the high-speed network will be able to keep their e-mail addresses, and the start-up screen will remain unchanged.
Mark Goldston, United Online's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a conference call that the expected monthly charges for the high-speed service to be comparable to other services.
"It is our intention to have a very competitively priced product in the marketplace that is consistent with the brand image we've created with NetZero and Juno."
NetZero and Juno customers pay $9.95 per month for unlimited dial-up service, or about 50 percent less than top competitors America Online and Earthlink. About 4.1 million customers use United Online's limited-use free services.
Comcast charges between $39.95 and $54.95 for its high-speed Internet service. Earthlink offers high-speed service on the Time Warner cable network for $49.95 a month, the same price as Verizon's digital subscriber line (DSL) service, which operates over phone lines rather than cable networks.
Only 10 percent of Internet users subscribe to high-speed services, partly because of the cost and nagging problems associated with the technologies. The adoption of cable Internet access outpaces DSL more than 2 to 1, however, and yesterday's deal is expected to help maintain or even widen that gap.
Analysts said yesterday's deal also could help hasten the finalization of Comcast's $72 billion bid to buy AT&T; Broadband. Federal regulators were expected to urge or even require Comcast to offer competing choices on its network.
But Comcast representatives said the United Online deal was not related to any regulatory pressure.
"We want to get the maximum penetration of broadband in our company, with or without AT&T;," Mr. Roberts said.
While analysts said the Comcast-United Online deal was good for both the companies and consumers, they said it remains to be seen how many United Online subscribers will sign on to the new high-speed service. Many United Online subscribers chose NetZero or Juno because of the relatively low prices, and it is questionable whether they would be willing to pay nearly $40 a month for high-speed access.

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