ISPs are Ready to Deal for Customers

Looking to attract households that still aren’t online, AOL is offering new customers a $299 PC system if they sign a one-year $23.90 dial-up Internet service contract.

The promotion, made by direct mail and touted in select retail stores, is detailed on an AOL e-commerce page.

It includes a desktop unit from New York manufacturer Systemax , as well as a monitor, keyboard and color printer. A shipping fee applies.

An AOL spokesman said the promotion is a test and expires Dec. 31.

The $299 PC deal is the latest attempt by the Time Warner’s online arm to win new users. In recent quarters, AOL has seen users switch to lower-priced rivals or choose broadband from a regional telecom or cable company.

Earlier, AOL announced plans to launch a Netscape-branded version of its service for $9.95 to rebuff competition from United Online .

The company is also testing anti-spyware software which will be included as a free upgrade in early 2004. The application which helps thwart programs that track users’ movements on the Web or collect personal data. It could be an attractive feature for security-minded consumers.

Although AOL’s PC offer is the most aggressive, it is not the only ISPs bidding for new subscribers during the holiday season.

Regional telecom SBC , which offers co-branded DSL service with Internet giant Yahoo! , has expanded its relationship with national retailers including Best Buy.

“We have been methodically identifying retail opportunities to support our strategy of bringing DSL closer to customers,” SBC spokesman Joe Izbrand told

In all, SBC’s Yahoo! service will be available in 2,000 retail stores for $26.95, with a year commitment to the service. Other chains included in the promotion include RadioShack, Cingular Wireless, Gateway, Sam’s CLub, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Kmart.

“We believe we will triple our retail store sales in 2004 based on the strong customer response we have received so far,” Izbrand said. He declined to give more specific figures.

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