[email protected] Targets AOL with New Broadband Portal

[email protected] Monday announced @Home 2000, its hybrid online service that combines broadband access with rich media content, will launch March 27.

A strategic coup for [email protected] (ATHM), the launch of the broadband service portal positions it be the America Online Inc. of broadband. The @Home 2000 site is designed to be the destination of choice for millions of broadband subscribers worldwide.

Forrester Research, Inc. projects that the migration to broadband Internet service providers will continue to be strong, with more than 27 million consumers accessing the Web through high-speed networks by 2003.

With the advent of set-top boxes and simple installation of cable access to the Internet, Forrester (FORR) further contends that 62 percent of first-time online users would choose broadband access over traditional dial-up services over the next three years.

The @Home 2000 service bundles high-speed access with a software package designed specifically for broadband content. [email protected]’s 1.15 million subscribers will be some of the first sample the powerful portals fare.

George Bell, [email protected] president and chief executive officer, said @Home has set the standard for ease and usability for online services based the broadband access paradigm.

“Broadband represents a major change in the public’s Internet experience,” Bell said. “The consumer can now have a fast connection to the Web and rich multimedia content without the hassles of dialing up. With speed, an easy connection and rich, personalized content, @Home 2000 marks the fundamental shift in the consumer movement to broadband.”

Patrick Colon, @Home subscriber in San Diego, Calif., and beta user of @Home 2000, said the service is both easy to use and a vastly different Internet experience.

“@Home 2000 has really changed my Internet experience,” Colon said. “It’s fast, always-on and I can customize my homepage so much that I log on and practically never leave there. The speed is wonderful and the service is easy enough for anyone to use.”

Another beta tester, who asked to remain anonymous due to a non-disclosure agreement signed as part of his participation, was not as kind.

“This is the first beta I have ever been on where there have not been any revisions of the software during the Beta cycle,” the user said. “I have reported a few bugs which the folks from Betasphere have acknowledged, yet there has been no updates to fix the software.”

The user added that the browser is not extraordinary and that @Home should have considered waiting to release the downloaded portal until IE 5.5 was released.

“Overall the browser is nothing to write home about, it sends you to a new homepage. If their server sees that you are coming from an @Home IP address, it shows you a special page,” the user said. “I was kind of disappointed with the content. Much of the fuss about @Home 2000 is the multimedia content that the new home page is supposed to have, it currently has less broadband content then the current narrowband @Home page.”

“If I was @Home I would have waited till IE 5.5 was official released before releasing @HOME 2000,” the user said. “As it stands @Home’s new software will be out of date shortly after it is released. It’s not uncommon for @Home software to be out of date. It’s usually 1 or 2 revisions behind whats currently on the street.”

The @HOME 2000 Web site features a custom browser built on Microsoft. Corp. (MSFT) Internet Explorer 5.0 search technology. The browser is designed for broadband use and includes the latest plug-insfo

r audio and video streaming for playing news clips and short animation films. Additional features include e-mail and localized content options, much like America Online’s (AOL) popular narrowband portal.

For example, @Home 2000 users may view their local weather from fully animated Doppler radar weather maps, a personalized broadband application not possible with a narrowband dial-up connection. Drag-and-drop features and rollover menus further enhance the users’ broadband experience on the Web.

The @Home 2000 service will be available to @Home subscribers at the end of the month. Subscribers will automatically begin to receive the new Excite broadband content and the upgraded services that include Web space and multiple IP access. Service pricing averages $40 a month.

Rather than focusing on delivering a vast number of Web pages to users, @Home 2000 is designed to increase the time broadband users spend online. By locking users in with highly personalized sites, Internet service providers can help advertisers tightly focus their marketing.

The @Home 2000 portal was built with AOL subscribers in mind. Bell thinks [email protected] can compete with AOL on features, even in the narrow-band marketplace.

The company has been conducting marketing trials in a few cities offering AOL subscribers a special deal if they sign up for the @Home service. Consumers get a rebate equal to two months worth of their AOL service plan. [email protected] reported that the promotion had an 80 percent success rate, and that two-thirds of the consumers who signed up for the high-speed service ended up canceling their AOL accounts.

In lieu of the AOL, Time Warner, Inc. (TWX) merger approval, [email protected] accelerated its plans to get its content up and running before AOL could reach out to grab its piece of the cable modem market segment. AOL executives have made it clear that Time Warner’s exclusive contract arrangements with RoadRunner cable service may have to be renegotiated in order for the online giant to end the marker prior to the end of next year.

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