Prodigy chief denies @Home rumors

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Prodigy Services Co. President Ed Bennett denied rumors that he is about to leave Prodigy to become CEO of @Home, a cable modem-based online venture being developed by Tele-Communications Inc.

@Home has been searching for several months for a full-time CEO to succeed Will Hearst III, who spearheaded the venture while also maintaining his position at venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.

In an interview with Advertising Age, Mr. Bennett said he was not taking the @Home post.

"It's not true," he said. "I have spoken to them about doing something with Prodigy, but not about myself personally...My discussion with them is to make sure we are part of the @Home offerings."

A Prodigy spokesman added: "There's no truth to the rumors that Ed Bennett is leaving Prodigy. He has a mandate to rebuild the service and that is his primary focus."

The Prodigy rebuild has been a long and convoluted process and is nowhere near completion, however.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. has definitively decided to sell its 50% stake in Prodigy, Ad Age reported in its Feb. 5 issue. That leaves IBM Corp., Prodigy's other owner, in the difficult position of choosing whether to take over Sears' stake or work with another partner.

It also leaves Mr. Bennett in the unenviable position of working not just for two masters, but one master that wants out and another that reportedly doesn't know what it wants.

A move to @Home would be a good fit for Mr. Bennett, who spent much of his career in the cable TV industry, most recently at MTV: Music Television. The service would use high bandwidth and transmission speeds of cable wires to offer online video and audio programming much more quickly than can be accomplished via standard telephone modems. It's also a business with a lot of buzz: In addition to TCI, Time Warner and other cable operators plan to ramp up cable modem Internet access this year.

Known as an energetic, intense concept man, Mr. Bennett has spent much of his tenure at Prodigy building a new management team and fostering development of new, entertainment-oriented content areas. He also has overseen Prodigy's transition from a proprietary network to a service incorporating HTML coding and Web links. Most recently, Prodigy said it would offer basic Internet access at the rock-bottom price of $1 per hour.

Despite these initiatives, membership in the core Prodigy service has dropped to about 1.2 million, well below subscriber totals of 4 million or more posted by America Online and CompuServe.

--Debra Aho Williamson

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