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Before ever launching its first paid ad, demand for AT&T Corp.'s WorldNet Internet access service skyrocketed out of control.

More than 500,000 consumer orders were taken within the first few weeks of its March 15 rollout, which offered AT&T long-distance customers five free hours of Internet access per month for a year.

"WorldNet was so successful because of the power of the AT&T brand and the marketplace demand surrounding the Internet," says Dave Hood, WorldNet's VP-marketing. "Right off the bat we offered consumers an easy and affordable way to see what the Internet was all about."

AT&T's offer emphasized just how interested people are in the Internet: extremely-especially if it's free.

But such intense demand generated by WorldNet was both a blessing and a curse for AT&T, whose backbone network wasn't ready for such an onslaught of activity. As of the first of June, only about 75,000 customers are actually using the WorldNet service.

Mr. Hood says WorldNet planned to begin advertising its service in June. Print, TV and radio spots carry the tagline, "Internet for everyone," and be handled primarily by AT&T agency FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York.

"For WorldNet, we're projecting a similar market share position that we have with our telephony business-about 60%," says Mr. Hood. "By 2000, we want to be a major player in Internet access."

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