AT&T rolls out pay-as-you-go Net service

AT&T Corp. will provide prepaid dial-up Internet service with calling cards like those used for long distance service, the company announced Wednesday.

Customers can buy a startup package with the installation software and eight hours of Internet service for US$9.99 or 20 hours of service for $19.99. Additional minutes can be purchased either online with a credit card or with refill cards, at $19.99 for 20 hours of service or $29.99 for 30 hours. The cards expire one year after activated.

Startup software is available now at WHSmith PLC stores in airports and hotels and will be sold through Eckerd Corp. drugstores in November, said Suzanne Keough, an AT&T spokeswoman. Additional retail outlets will carry the prepaid service cards in the months ahead, she said.

AT&T's prepaid Internet service uses the WorldNet infrastructure, allowing local access from most places in the U.S. Toll-free access numbers may also be used, but toll-free services use up prepaid minutes faster. Prepaid service comes with one e-mail account, unlike the six accounts a regular WorldNet subscription offers. Other WorldNet services like Web hosting are similarly constrained.

"It's very analogous to a prepaid phone card," Keough said. "There may be some instances where you may need a backup, and it's also good for someone who wants to sign up for something without a re-occurring monthly fee."

Sprint Corp. also has prepaid Internet service, as do other smaller companies like Slingshot Communications Inc. and MaGlobe Inc. Internet users who had looked to free dial-up services as a backup to companies like Juno Online Inc. and NetZero Inc. have watched those companies curtail free access as they try to turn a profit.

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