Ameritech, AT&T Pitch Fierce Battle for Internet Users

Article excerpt

Ameritech and AT&T have promotions coming faster than the speed of technology in dueling campaigns attempting to lock millions of consumers in long term.

Both utilities debuted aggressive marketing campaigns this week to attract customers with free or reduced cost offers related to digital subscriber line high-speed Internet service or phone service over cable television lines.

Both companies have aggressive growth plans for the services, wanting to double their customer base before the end of the year.

Experts had mixed reviews of the campaigns, believing the give- aways could be a sign of trouble or simply a standard marketing practice. Regardless, the companies want to expand their reach by enticing more new customers and seducing current customers into additional services.

But the offers come so quick that it's often hard for the consumer to sort out who is offering the best deal on what. Buyers must be cautious, experts warn.

Ameritech's latest DSL offer, for example, isn't actually as good as a previous promotion offering free installation that ended Thursday. And it seems aimed in part at reducing the manpower demands on the company, which has been under fire for taking too long to repair and install service for its regular phone customers.

As of today, Ameritech is giving customers a choice between paying a $150 installation charge or getting a free self-install kit. The kit includes filters, software, an instruction manual and a network interface card. Delivery takes three weeks. With either plan, there is a $99 charge for a DSL modem for customers who need one.

DSL is high-speed Internet service and telephone service combined over traditional telephone copper wire lines. DSL subscribers pay $39.95 a month for the 24-hour Internet service.

Ameritech also is launching another offer that mimics the free computers offered by some Internet service providers in return for long-term contracts.

It is offering a Compaq Presario computer it values at $1,000 with a pre-installed DSL modem and Ameritech Internet software. To get the computer, customers must commit to 28 months of DSL service at $59.95 a month, which includes $20 monthly installments toward the cost of the computer.

Customers ultimately pay $560 for the computer and are hit with an additional $89 for shipping and handling charges. Delivery takes about four weeks. However, DSL service and the computer are free through the end of the year with payments beginning in January. The promotion ends Oct. 31.

DSL isn't available in all communities; about 2.7 million households locally have access, said Tim Moffitt, executive director of Ameritech's Consumer Markets Division.

Ameritech's parent company, SBC Communications, has about 500,000 DSL subscribers nationwide, but wants to double that by the end of the year.

Self installation already has been offered in other markets with about 50 percent of customers choosing that option, Moffitt said. …