February 28, 2002 4:50 PM PST

Comcast may provide newsgroup service

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More than one million customers of high-speed Internet provider Comcast will regain access to newsgroups, thanks to a new deal between the cable company and Giganews.com.

The Austin, Texas-based news content provider is likely to announce an official partnership with Philadelphia-based Comcast as soon as Friday. The companies have been developing the expanded newsgroup service for more than a week, confirmed Russ Rhea, a spokesman for Giganews.com. Comcast would not comment on whether a deal was in the works.

Comcast severely limited newsgroup access earlier this month when it began transferring hundreds of thousands of customers to its independent network from the network run by Excite@Home, which will cease operations at midnight Thursday. Putting a cap on newsgroup usage enraged customers, who were already upset with slower service and random e-mail outages due to the complicated network transition.

Also known as Internet discussion groups and known collectively as "Usenet," newsgroups are popular threads of messages on virtually every topic imaginable. Baroque music aficionados, for instance, might post critiques of period musicians in a newsgroup called alt.music.baroque. Some of the most popular groups generate responses from hundreds or thousands of people each day, and many groups--including those dedicated to surviving cancer and dealing with alcoholism--have very loyal followings.

The Usenet system originated in the 1970s, roughly two decades before the popularization of the World Wide Web, as a way for universities to communicate over early modems. Newsgroups are now the fastest growing category of Internet use, according to Jonah Yokubaitis, president of Giganews.com. Although many are now clogged with spam, participants can post messages, MP3s, videos and photos into newsgroups.

"It's about to explode, and partnerships with end users served by providers like Comcast will make newsgroups the next ubiquitous Internet feature," Yokubaitis said of Usenet.

Giganews.com, which develops software to build and maintain newsgroups, billed the deal as a "significant upgrade" to Comcast subscribers. The switch in newsgroup service is one of the final steps in Comcast's efforts to upgrade some of its Internet offerings after Excite@Home, which declared bankruptcy in September, stopped providing high-speed cable-modem access to Comcast customers.

But some Comcast subscribers were less enthusiastic about the deal.

Jim Rapp, one of the Comcast customers already given access to newsgroups, called the Giganews.com deal a negative consequence of the "fallout" from the Excite@Home debacle. The Alexandria, Va., resident also said his newsgroup downloads are capped at 1GB per month, and he's been notified that if he goes over that he will be charged more money.

"I do not know if providing Usenet was an expensive proposition for @Home or (why) Comcast is doing this, other than to effectively give less capability for the same price," Rapp said. "One has to wonder what is the purpose of having a high-speed connection if another standard feature offered by @Home is turned into an effective pay service?"

 

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