And Then There Was Sprint: Following months behind telecommunications archrivals AT&T, Basking Ridge, N.J., and Washington-based MCI Communications Corp., Sprint finally announced its Internet consumer strategy last week.

While it maintains one of the most impressive Internet backbones, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company has until now stalled on its consumer service plan, called Sprint Internet Passport.

Sprint's 200,000 residential customers will get to use the service free for a short period before other individuals are offered the product later in the fall. The rates then will be $19.95 a month for unlimited use or $1.50 an hour with no maximum or minimum use requirements.

BTG Plans to Offer Free Internet: BTG, Vienna, Va., has formed a new division, Community Networks Inc., designed to forge partnerships with cable operators in hopes of bringing high-speed Internet access to communities. BTG will first target Loudoun County, Va.

The cable partner in the deal is Cablevision of Loudoun, which has 29,000 customers in the area and will make an equity investment in Community Networks. The division plans to offer free Internet access to schools and government.

Building a Backbone: Cable & Wireless, Vienna, Va., and Erol's Internet and Computers, Washington, have formed an alliance to develop a national Internet access backbone. People in the following cities will eventually have that choice on their Internet menu: Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Va., Norfolk, Va., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, Hartford, Conn., and New York.

Who's Online? Hoping to answer the difficult question of who and how many people are online, at least on one service, America Online, Dulles, Va., and Nielsen Media Research will develop an audience measurement system. The project will include a tracking system for usage and an independent audit and certification program.

Paying Bills Gets a Bit Easier: Chase Manhattan, New York, and Ameritech, Chicago, have signed an agreement to market an electronic bill-payment service. Customers are expected to use the service to pay telephone, utility and cable bills. Payments will automatically be drawn from the customer's account. An automated credit card will be offered later this year. While the customer theoretically saves time, the bank saves money; Chase estimates it will save 40 percent on every electronic payment.

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