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AOL Dismisses Reports About Family Plan

Recent news articles reported this week that America Online Inc. is developing an Internet access plan that would let several family members use the same account simultaneously.

Ann Brackbill, America Online spokesperson dismissed the reports, saying the stories were based on analysts' speculations following comments AOL President Barry Schuler made during a first-quarter earnings conference call.

Brackbill did confirm that AOL is considering such an extension of its Internet services when it launches its television services later this year, but said there are no set plans or time frame in place for a shared dial-up account service from AOL anytime soon.

AOL is officially in the process of constructing its television service plan, which may afford AOL members simultaneous access to e-mail and instant messaging services from a single account.

The plan would require that subscribers purchase a modestly priced Internet device to allow such a service. Naturally separate access fees would be added to AOL's $22 a month premium rate plan for such multiple e-mail user plans.

The problem with simultaneous service from a single account involves authentication of the user by the Internet service provider. Almost every ISP in business sets up its connections to identify the users as a valid address before access is permitted to its network.

In order for ISPs like AOL to profit from providing Net access, an authentication scheme must validate the user for singular service. Authenticating multiple users across a single account requires complex programming, which is reserved for private business services.

While home networks are slowing becoming more of a reality in the U.S., AOL users do not necessarily desire to pay business-rate fees to establish multiple, simultaneous connections to the Internet.

America Online currently allows families to create as many as seven different user names under a single account, but only one person can be logged on at a time. Singular access has created problems in some households where children and parents battle for access from different computer connections.

The only resolution for arguments over home computer access to the Internet is to install additional phone lines and set up individual accounts with an ISP. Most families simply schedule times for home use and skip paying additional fees for individual ISP accounts and costly additional phone line installations.



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