Log into the Internet, click on a Web page, type in a security code and a couple of telephone numbers and your second phone line rings seconds later.
Wait a few more seconds and the connection goes through to your sister in Shre veport, La. Type a couple of more telephone numbers on the computer keyboard and - if they're home - your brother in Chicago and your parents in Phoenix are added to the call.
Welcome to the Sprint Internet Conference Center, a new teleconferencing system that uses the World Wide Web to link people to each other through Sprint's traditional telephone network.
Sprint has been testing the service since January. Using the 'Net, customers can bypass the reservation system that usually is involved in setting up a teleconference and make a do-it-yourself conference call with up to eight participants anytime they want.
Sprint, the nation's fourth-largest teleconference provider, is hoping to expand its traditional, business-oriented conferencing business by making teleconferencing readily available to average consumers. At the same time, the company is hoping to bolster its Internet service, Sprint Internet Passport, by giving Passport customers a special deal.
The company even offers a free, 10-minute tryout from the conferencing center Web site at www.sprintconf.com.
Why use the Internet to set up the calls?
"You can use it on demand," said John Williams, general manager of Sprint Conferencing. "There's no need to make a reservation or schedule a conference."
Through the process, a request for service is routed from the Internet to a network switch at Sprint. The system automatically calls the person who requested the teleconference and then dials the first of the other teleconference participants.
The operator formerly involved in placing conference calls is out of the picture. And because the system automates a formerly labor-intensive process, it's less expensive.
Sprint's rate for a traditional teleconference set up by an operator is 43 cents a minute plus $3 a line. That means a 10-minute business call among five associates costs $36.50.
The same call placed through the Internet Conference Center would cost a business $15 - 30 cents a minute per participant.
Residential customers, who get slightly different service, would pay only $12.50 for the same call - 25 cents a minute per participant.
Sprint is trying to give Internet Passport a boost by giving customers an even bigger break. As part of a promotion, Passport customers would pay only $5 for the same call - 10 cents per minute per participant.
Only one of the callers - the one who initiates the call - has to have an Internet connection.
"This will help our customers understand the real strength that Sprint brings to the Internet market - the ability to offer unique customer advantages and combine the 'Net and traditional telephone services in a way that will change the way people communicate," said Jim Dodd, vice president of Sprint Internet Access Services.
The 10-cent price - the same as the company's Sprint Sense long-distance price - is intended to bring conferencing services "more to the consumer level," said Jeff Shafer, spokesman for Sprint Internet Passport. "The price break is something we're able to do to give customers a little added incentive to join Internet Passport."
The co-promotion may be the start of a number of similar services offered to Sprint Internet Passport customers. Mr. Dodd said last month that the company is considering plans to offer price incentives on Sprint services to show Passport customers the value of the Internet service.
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