MCI Hopes Interneterati Will Invoke its Name for Services

The long-distance provider makes a debut as all-around Internet service company, hoping to net the high-end PC population

he nation's number two long- distance carrier doesn't want you to think of the Internet as just the Internet anymore. Rather, it is hoping people will think of it as "internetMCI," a newly announced package of services designed to establish the company as the gatekeeper of cyberspace, or at least, the toll booth.

The pairing of an American household name with the once-obscure Internet marks the most audacious attempt to date by corporate America to capitalize on the potentially colossal business opportunities offered by the "network of networks." However, it should be noted the Washington D.C.-based company's Internet service is not Macintosh-compatible.

MCI is rolling out a host of services aimed at consumers, retailers and small business early next year. These offerings include software for easier Internet access and high-speed data connections, electronic commerce consulting services and an Internet shopping service.

InternetMCI is part of the company's $20 billion dollar 5-year plan, and largely the brainchild of Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf, MCI's senior vice president for data architecture.

Cerf, the developer of MCI's E-mail service, said the company's association with the net began with in 1987, and now carries 40 percent of all Internet traffic by virtue of contracts with 11 regional access providers. MCI, he added, intends to build the world's most fully connected access network to the Internet.

"There are other companies that offer Internet-related services, but no one else offers the full range of applications software, access, storefronts and consulting services in one package," said Timothy Price, president of MCI's Business Markets.

"The Internet is a marketer's dream come to life, and we now have everything companies need to promote over the net."

That "everything" includes something known as "marketplaceMCI," an electronic shopping mall due to open for business early in 1995 on the World Wide Web. The company would not say how many merchants or customers it expects - or hopes - will buy into its Internet vision.

However, if the growth of Internet use and the amount of business conducted in cyberspace grows at rates projected by the company - 300 million users and $2 billion in annual sales by the year 2000 - it could be MCI's dream come to life as well.

But the popularity of on-line shopping has never approached the overly-optimistic projections by services such as Prodigy, who assumed - incorrectly - that people were more interested in products than information. Industry watchers generally associate the desultory consumer response to on-line shopping with the fear of being ripped off in cyberspace.

MCI hopes to assuage those fears with encryption technology from RSA Data Security. RSA's technology will be integrated into a client/server software system from Netscape Communications that includes a navigator for easy browsing and safe shopping without the fear of sharing one's credit-card number with the world.

The security system also includes a digital signature system. The entire package will be bundled with Internet protocol software from FTP Software Inc.

Cerf said the company is exploring more exotic forms of payment as well. "Possibilities like cybercash or digicash are very much on our mind," he said.

Other elements of internetMCI include software for high-speed Internet connections for businesses that will provide access from switched local, 800, ISDN, frame relay, and in the future, ATM service.

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