NZ could see Net-flavoured CompuServe this year

CompuServe's migration to an Internet-based service has begun--and it should kick in for New Zealand users later in the year.

The prospect of CompuServe being bundled with any local offering from AT&T WorldNet also remains open, in what seems likely to be an interesting year for the country's largest online service.

While US executives are stressing that customers of CompuServe's current offerings will not be abandoned, future enhancements will be made only to its forthcoming Internet service, code-named Red Dog.

Although new access software, CompuServe 3.0, due mid-year, will be tailored to Red Dog, the service will be available to anyone with a Web browser. This will free CompuServe of much of its software development costs--and raises the intriguing possibility of separate charges for its ISP and Red Dog services.

CompuServe New Zealand spokesman Colin Wallis admits this is a possibility in the local market, but says that the local licensee, Fujitsu, currently only has the right to resell the CompuServe Information Service--and not SpryNet, the ISP wing of CompuServe network services division. A bundling of CompuServe at a discounted rate to AT&T WorldNet customers, as has been done in the US, was also a possiblity, he says.

"AT&T locally hasn't been falling over itself to progress its part of an arrangement," says Wallis. "It's certainly technically possible that we could be part of an arrangement like that, but I'm inclined to hold off comment until we've got something to say. My impression is that AT&T is looking at some sort of soft launch here later in the year."

Voyager parent OzEmail's current US stock prospectus suggests that most global telcos like AT&T will eventually seek a consumer Internet presence in New Zealand--and will come to dominate the market. Wallis agree. "It's going to be tough for the little guys. The larger companies' ability to consumerise the whole process of getting on and getting access is worth a lot.

"I think we'll let the US situation bed in before making any commitments. AT&T came in with a very racy Internet offer, but the general level of pricing in the market quickly came down to the point where WorldNet wasn't really better value than SpryNet. And WorldNet was introduced as an extra service for AT&T customers, of whom there are very few here. Which customers would they target in this market?"

The eventual progression of CompuServe's local service to the Red Dog model is a more certain bet; and will likely take place soon after the US, UK and Europe have established the new model, which will build in capabilities such as user profiling. Wallis points out that the New Zealand network would need "some extra bells and whistles" before enhanced services would be introduced here.

"We've always been very careful about staging network capacity--this thing has a late 96, early 97 feel to me."

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