CHICAGO -- Ameritech Corp. is teaming up with Microsoft Corp. to offer consumers and small businesses Internet access so fast it takes just 30 minutes to download the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The move to offer the technology, which is 100 times faster than current modem speeds, has been eagerly awaited by customers. It is part of the strategy of nearly all Baby Bells to bundle services to fend off competitors.
Bell Atlantic, U S West, Bell South, Pacific Bell and Southwestern Bell all have been testing the technology -- asymmetrical digital subscriber lines, or ADSL -- and plan to begin rolling out service within a year.
The companies hope that by packaging a broad range of services, from local, cellular and long-distance service, to Internet access and even home-security monitoring, competitors such as AT&T Corp. will have a hard time wooing customers away.
Under the agreement Ameritech announced Tuesday with Microsoft, Ameritech.net High Speed Internet Service will work with the Windows operating systems and offer customers only Internet Explorer as a Web browser, a blow to Netscape, which is a browser of choice for many people.
In return, Microsoft will use its muscle to get computer manufacturers to install the technology before customers buy the hardware.
"This technology will make it easy for consumers and businesses to seamlessly enjoy the benefits of high-speed Internet access without any problems or needs for additional installation visits," said Cameron Myhrvold, vice president of Microsoft's Internet customer unit.
Ameritech, the parent of telephone companies in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, is initially rolling out service in Ann Arbor, Mich., to be followed in January in Royal Oak, Mich.
Chicago-area customers most likely will see the service by late spring, and 70 percent of consumers in Ameritech's five-state region would be capable of receiving the service by the year 2000, said Valeri Marks, president of Ameritech Interactive Media Services.
ADSL technology can transmit voice, video and data over existing copper telephone lines. The technology is 100 times faster than using existing phone lines with the speediest modems, which now move data at 56 kilobits a second.
The service also could threaten the growing use of ISDN, or integrated services digital network, which is faster than current modems but far slower than ADSL.
"Customers have a need for speed, and that's what we're providing," Marks said.
Ameritech plans to charge $59.95 a month for ADSL and unlimited Internet access, plus a $150 installation charge. Customers who sign up through 1998 will pay only $49.95, and the $199 cost of the modem to deliver the technology is waived.
Other ADSL providers have estimated charges at between $50 and $125 a month.