Comcast Cable Communications plans a test offering of Juno Online Services — the nation’s No. 3 Internet provider — over its high-speed Internet cable lines.
Comcast, the nation’s third-largest cable operator, has an exclusive agreement with ExciteAtHome, the leading provider of cable-based Internet services. But Comcast officials say there will be opportunities in 2001 to alter that arrangement and that it can go ahead with tests to determine the technical feasibility of offering multiple Internet services.
“This trial should help us to figure out what kinds of value-added relationships with ISPs will be most attractive to our customers,” said Steve Burke, president of Comcast Cable. “Based on what we learn, we are eager to move ahead with plans to offer a choice of ISPs on terms that make sense for our ISP partners and us.”
The companies planned to announce the arrangement Wednesday.
Under the trial, set for the first quarter of next year in Philadelphia, a select group of Comcast’s cable customers in the area will receive Juno for their Internet service. Company officials said they haven’t yet determined whether customers would be charged separately for Juno’s service, since this is a technical test and not a marketing offer.
If the technical trial works out, the companies could eventually reach an agreement to offer Juno more broadly to Comcast customers and determine under what terms to do so.
“This trial is the first step in what we hope will be a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Comcast,” said Charles Ardai, Juno’s president and chief executive office.
Juno also has been in talks to offer its service over Time Warner’s high-speed cable lines — negotiations that have garnered added attention because of the regulatory review of Time Warner’s merger with America Online.
Antitrust officials have demanded that Time Warner offer its high-speed online customers a choice of Internet providers other than AOL as a condition of their approval. Last week, Time Warner struck a deal with AOL’s chief rival, EarthLink, so that customers will eventually be able to select that Internet service.
Other cable companies also are conducting trials to offer multiple Internet providers over their high-speed lines. AT&T Broadband has an ongoing test in Boulder, Colo., with eight Internet providers participating.
Comcast will have 375,000 high-speed Internet customers by year’s end, the company said. Comcast said several Internet providers will probably join the trial.