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Sprint Revamps Prepaid Internet service

Sprint's second foray into prepaid Internet cards, unleashed Friday, puts its service plan on par with the many other companies targeting an ever-growing crowd travelers and infrequent Internet surfers clamoring for the service.

With rates starting at 480 minutes for $9.99 a month, all the way up to 2,000 minutes for $29.99, it's an Internet option that's quickly becoming as popular as conventional Internet services.

Henry Goldberg, a senior analyst at Cahner's In-Stat Group, is just as surprised as many others in the industry. In a recent study he predicts the prepaid Internet services market, which stands at $10 million today, will grow to $280 million in 2005.

"It turns out there are a surprisingly large number of potential customers," he said. "Prepaid Internet service providers are targeting travelers, consumers without credit, infrequent to moderate users of Internet service, parents controlling the time their children spend online and people with privacy concerns."

But no one's more surprised than Sprint officials, who have scrambled to put together a service that takes advantage of the growing popularity of the service and makes it competitive with an ever-growing list of companies selling prepaid Internet cards.

Sprint's initial prepaid plan doled out a meager three hours of Internet service for $10 and had some kinks in the system. Several other companies came out with prepaid services at about the same time all had better service plans than Sprint"

  • AT&T <, one of its primary competitors with prepaid phone cards, recently came out with rates ranging from eight hours at $9.99 to 30 hours at $29.99
  • MaGlobe has a service plan, geared mainly for corporate types and business travelers, that provides 15 hours of prepaid Internet for $14.99 all the way up to $499 for 500 hours
  • Slingshot gives customers the most bang for the buck, giving prepaid Internet card buyers 600 minutes for $10
  • Inconet customers can choose from four hours of service for $10 or 10 hours for $20.

But Sprint quickly recovered, signing deals with nationwide franchises to get the cards out in the mainstream and making improvements to its dialer software and Web interface.

7-Eleven conducted field tests of a sort at some of its stores earlier this year, which Sprint officials used to enhance and improve their set up process. With prepaid Internet cards, customers are required to install a dialer program using a CD-ROM and use the login and password found on the Internet card.

Tim McCallum, 7-Eleven Inc. product director of services, said Sprint's plan is now ready to run at the 5,200 convenience stores nationwide.

"Sprint Prepaid Internet offers Internet users value and convenience, so it's a perfect fit for 7-Eleven stores," he said. "Based on our test in San Diego and the enhancements made to the product, we think customer response will be tremendous as we launch Sprint Prepaid Internet in our stores across the country."

Sprint has also signed contracts with college bookstore franchise Follet Bookstores and will sell prepaid Internet cards at all its Sprint PCS stores throughout the country.