AT&T gunning for Sprint customers

AT&T is making an aggressive play for both government and commercial customers affected by Sprint's recent decision to end its Web-hosting business.

However, Sprint said the company will make sure its hosting customers continue to get the service they need.

Sprint announced last week that it plans to phase out its Web-hosting business in an effort to strengthen its financial position. The company is in talks with several hosting providers to become partners and take over hosting for existing customers, said Sprint spokesman Steve Lunceford. The company has already stopped developing new hosting business.

However, the company may continue providing hosting services directly for a small number of customers, and has made that offer to all its federal customers, he said. Sprint has 10 data centers nationwide that it uses to provide Web hosting, eight of them leased. It plans to let go of the leased centers, but will use the two it owns to support its operations and nine federal agencies, Lunceford said.

Sprint partners will support several hundred other customers, he added.

"The current customer base will be transitioned by the end of 2003. They will be given the opportunity to migrate to one of these partners," Lunceford said.

However, Sprint's competitors see the decision as an opportunity to capture new customers. AT&T today announced that it is launching an "aggressive campaign" to sign up agencies and commercial customers who don't want to stay with Sprint.

AT&T's "transition program" includes flexible financing, "aggressive pricing," free installation and service-level guarantees. The company soon will launch an advertising campaign to woo Sprint customers or customers of other telecommunications firms that are scaling back hosting services.

"Our first priority is serving customers who already are stranded or fear that possibility as providers turn off the lights in their Web-hosting facilities," AT&T President Betsy Bernard said in a statement. "While others are scaling down their investments or even abandoning this space, AT&T has forged forward and fundamentally integrated our Internet data centers into our networking architecture."

AT&T doesn't have much hope of winning Sprint's current customers, said Warren Suss, a telecommunications and information technology consultant and president of Suss Consulting Inc. Sprint's real challenge will be signing new telecommunications business with a less comprehensive set of offerings.

"Web-hosting services represented an attempt for Sprint to get closer to the value-add end of the business. It was one step closer to providing end-to-end solutions," he said. "The fact that they're backing away from this does not bode well for them. It's going to yield market space to companies that are selling total end-to-end solutions, and it will place Sprint in more of a position of being a commodity provider."

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