@HOME TAKES ON ONLINE WORLD;TCI VENTURE HOPES TO BUMP UP THE SPEED OF THE WORLD WIDE WEB

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Tele-Communications Inc. is hoping to make hay from a medium it considers "content-rich and bandwidth-poor."

This spring, Sunnyvale, Calif., will host the first test of an ambitious project to bring online access to consumers via cable wires.

Called @Home (http://www.home.net), the project is a joint venture of TCI Technology Ventures and venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

"We think @Home is a business that can grow to a million or 10 million or more subscribers," said William Randolph Hearst III, a partner in Kleiner Perkins and overseer of the venture. "Over time the kinds of things people can put on the 'Net have become richer, but these media-like experiences use up a lot more bandwidth. The Internet is getting very exciting, but it's hard to see that excitement at a 14.4 dial-up modem speed."

@Home has agreements with content providers including the Learning Channel, Discovery Channel and c/net: The Computer Network. It will also work with local entities such as schools, governmental bodies and community groups to round out the offerings.

The service will use a customized browser from Netscape Communications Corp.

"The Internet is not really a consumer-oriented space right now, and it looks like it's getting even less and less that way," said Sean Doherty, director of business development for the service. "There's no central authority for providing support and billing and assuring service levels."

@Home expects to charge a flat $30 to $40 per month for unlimited access and e-mail. Subscribers must have an Ethernet card in their computer to use the service, something most consumers don't have. But @Home plans to supply the cable modem-an expensive piece of equipment-to consumers itself.

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