Sprint Communications Co. is readying plans to launch a consumer Internet access service later this summer.
With its move into the consumer market, the nation's No. 3 long-distance provider joins a growing list of telecom giants, ranging from AT&T; Corp. to a handful of regional Bell companies, that this year have launched efforts to sell Internet access to individuals.
The push to provide consumer services already is taking its toll on traditional Internet access providers. PSINet Inc., for example, last week announced plans to sell its consumer-oriented Pipeline online service to Mindspring Enterprises Inc. in a deal valued at $23 million. While PSINet retreats from the consumer market to focus on its niche of business clients, large providers such as Sprint must continue expanding their service offerings if they want to build a viable long-term presence in the Internet access business, said Joel Maloff, president of The Maloff Co. industry consulting firm.
"To be a national player, you must be able to offer all things to all people," Maloff said. "It's something Sprint needs to do. Either they have to invest properly in expanding in this area or get out of the business." Sprint will formally announce its plans for a consumer Internet access service this summer, said company spokeswoman Robin Carlson. Sprint, however, has not revealed pricing for its new service or a timetable for its rollout, Carlson said. Sprint originally planned to launch its consumer service in June but delayed to give it time for revamping its product offering in the wake of AT&T;'s announcement of its WorldNet consumer service in late February, industry consultants said.
AT&T; had scored a public relations coup with its introduction of five free hours of Internet access monthly for AT&T; long-distance customers. However, it has had a hard time keeping pace with the rush of consumer requests to sign up for the service. "We want to take our time with this," said Carlson. "We want to market and support in the way that is best for our customers." Competitors said they expect Sprint to dish up a price package comparable to the emerging industry standard of $19.95 monthly for unlimited usage. "At this point, they would be fools to jump into this market at a price lower than everybody else," said Brian Muys, a spokesman for PSINet.
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