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Cable Firm to Offer Internet Data Network to Subscribers : Technology: Plans call for eventually feeding the information into television sets. Other firms may follow suit.


Bringing the information highway ever closer, one of America's largest cable television operators said Tuesday it will offer direct access to the sprawling Internet computer network through its video system.

The new service, from Boston-based Continental Cablevision Inc., will give subscribers an ocean of information through their personal computers, allowing them to tap into university libraries, discussion groups and other services from around the world.

Initially, the service will be available only to Continental subscribers in suburban Boston. However, the company said it expects to make the service available to all its subscribers--including 323,000 in Southern California--by the end of 1994.

Continental, the nation's No. 3 cable concern, is the first cable operator to connect the Internet to its pipeline into American homes.

The Internet is a high-speed global telecommunications network that has traditionally been used by students, researchers and high-tech businesses but lately is gaining broader use. Continental is teaming up with an Internet provider, Performance Systems International Inc. of Herndon, Va., to offer the hookups with the computer network.

PSI President William Schrader said at least a dozen more cable operators, including industry leaders Tele-Communications Inc. and Time Warner Communications, are expected to join with PSI to offer Internet connections to their subscribers within the next year.

If the venture proves successful, it could become a daunting competitor to consumer-oriented computer information services such as Prodigy, Compuserve and America Online, all of which have many fewer users and information resources than the Internet.

Whether residential subscribers want Internet service is unclear. For starters, Continental's service is expected to increase a monthly cable bill by $70 to $150 a month. Internet access is available by phone for far less.

And then there is the Internet itself, designed by the computer literate for their own kind. A complex and daunting set of commands is required to gain entry to the network and navigate through its myriad files.

But as the Internet attracts users beyond its traditional base in universities and elite research facilities, it is bound to become easier to use, analysts say. Subscribers, who now number about 15 million in more than 50 countries, are growing by a staggering 10% a month.

A cable TV link could accelerate that rate by making it easier for people to work at home.

Continental will initially feed the data into personal computers, but eventually hopes to put it directly into television sets equipped to allow consumers to search through and pick out what they want.

David Fellows, Continental's senior vice president, said broad-band cable TV networks are better equipped than traditional telephone lines to carry the vast quantities of information offered on the Internet.

Fellows estimated that about 700,000 of Continental's 2.9 million subscribers have personal computers.

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