At&T;’S Move To The ‘Net A Rural Relief Users Who Must Dial Long-Distance Will Benefit

AT&T;’s leap into the Internet will have its biggest impact in the Northwest’s information-hungry smaller towns, computer users said Thursday.

The company’s new Internet service, due next month, will appeal most to residents who have to dial long-distance to cruise the World Wide Web or other parts of the global computer network.

“This will be a way for them to fill in the potholes on the Information Highway,” said Rocky Seelbach, an Internet consultant from Spokane.

The communications giant announced its plans this week, saying its new service will give John Q. Public a reliable and simple way to cruise the ‘Net.

Spokane Internet providers, however, welcomed the competition, saying they don’t forsee a major fallout.

“This move will make life miserable for the five or six new start-up providers here,” said Sheryl Stover, spokeswoman for Spokane’s Internet On-Ramp.

“But we’ve been in business two years and have a steady niche market. We can do things AT&T; can’t do,” like resolving customer problems quickly.

A year ago, Spokane had three or four commercial Internet providers. Today, there are nearly a dozen as national interest in computer networks has soared.

But Stover and others agreed AT&T; stands to gain new customers in towns where Internet use is low.

Internet users typically pay $20 to $25 a month to a provider, like Internet On-Ramp, for a full connection.

But Davenport residents, for example, would also have to pay long-distance charges to Spokane, since they have no local Internet service available.

By avoiding long-distance charges for the Internet, AT&T; will grab a lot of rural customers, said Seelbach and others.

For its first year, AT&T; will offer unlimited access for $20 a month. Those using the Internet less than five hours a month will pay nothing.

Linda Olson, owner of High Mountain Graphics in Sandpoint, Idaho, is eagerly awaiting the new service.

“I’ve used AT&T; for phone service all my life. I’d have no problem using them for helping me get my business on the Internet,” she said.

AT&T;’s most economical offer will be for computer users near 200 cities where access to the Internet will involve a simple local phone call.

What’s not clear, those interviewed agreed, is what the landscape will look like in a year.

AT&T; has just applied to Washington state officials for the option of providing local as well as long-distance service.

And local phone companies, like U.S. West, expect to offer Internet access in turn.

The bottom line will be stiffer competition and a possible drop in connection costs.

“It might even be we’ll pay about $10 a month for what now costs twice that,” said Pat Morgan, a Seattle consultant who helped two Internet companies get started in the past year and half.

For those already connected and on-line, the choice seems obvious. Most interviewed said they won’t switch, largely out of loyalty to local companies they’ve used to explore the Internet.

“The difference to me is in the service you get from a local company,” said Carl Paukstis, a software manager for Spokane branch of Olivetti North America.

“New users especially will feel comfortable going down to a local office and asking someone there to hold their hands with a start-up problem,” he said.

, DataTimes

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