Telerama Pushes West

By Eric Griffith

August 07, 2003

In partnering with Covad for DSL, the Pittsburgh-based ISP is planning to take its growing hotspot business -- where they pay the venue owner to join -- to areas in the southwest and west coast and, eventually, national.

An old school local ISP in the Pittsburgh area, Telerama Internet jumped on the Wi-Fi hotspot bandwagon with gusto over the last year. To get to the point of local ubiquity, the company partnered with any venue that wanted access -- from cafes to laundromats -- paying for all the installation and let the venues use the installed high-speed connection for the hotspot for free. Initially, even end-users of the Wi-Fi equipment didn't have to pay.

That initial gamble appears to have paid off. Now with 50 installed hotspots in Pittsburgh, Telerama -- which bills itself as the "world's third ISP" founded in 1991 -- is taking its hotspot services past the Pennsylvania border. The company is entering a partnership with national DSL-provider Covad, who will provide the high-speed network to power future Telerama hotspots. First stop, cities in the southwest and the west coast of the United States.

"We own and operate all the equipment and lines for a hotspot," says company founder and president Doug Luce. "We show up, install the equipment, run the service, even roll the truck for service and support if needed." Even after all that, the hotspot venue owners get free DSL service and no charges for maintenance. In fact, venues get a bounty for bringing in new customers.

For the expansion to the other side of the country, Telerama is getting new offices and hiring new west coast-based employees. The partnership with a company like Covad, which has a network for DSL and high-speed T-1 lines that can reach about 45 percent of the United States homes and businesses, was key to the expansion since Telerama doesn't own any infrastructure for backhaul in these areas.

The two cities that Telerama will be doing installs in are being kept under wraps for now until more contracts are signed with venues. The company said they now have 10 hotspots in one location, and four in the other, with more on the way.

"The primary reason to go to the southwest and the west coast was just to see if we could," says Luce. "We picked some locations -- ground zero for wireless really -- and we want to see what happens. We want to go through the problems and address those problems. This is our model for going totally national."

Pittsburgh won't be forgetten by Telerama. With 50 installed hotspots, there are still 30 more under contract to put in, and the company hopes to have a full 200 by the end of 2004. "We're saturating the location, giving the individual user a choice of where to go," he says. Their model user is not the "transient traveler -- we want the community." Luce says they are signing up an average of 100 hotspot users per week in Pittsburgh.

The services for end-users are usually part of a bundle. For $29.95 users get unlimited time at any Telerama hotspots, as well as a national dial-up account and an e-mail address. Users who get DSL through Telerama pay $59.95 for the package. Single-day hotspot access is $4.95.

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