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December 13, 1999

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Subject:  Newcomer's Observations
Author:  kernodds

This is my first posting on this board. After being in mutual funds for a decade, ATHM is the first individual stock I've ever bought. I signed up for the service in late summer 1999 after it had been in my area for at least 8 months. I immediately thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, and based on potential alone quickly bought some ATHM stock without a lot of research. Since then I've researched ATHM fairly aggressively. I bought some more ATHM shares last week when the price fell.

As a user, the benefits of @home for me were immediately obvious. Since I'm getting the impression from some of the postings on this board that some posters don't yet have access to @home (thereby making their comments comparing AOL and @home more hypothetical than real), I thought I'd share my experience. This is a combination of personal testimonial and history lesson, but should be enjoyed by anyone who is long on ATHM. It should also provide some reassurance about the skill of @home in marketing the product in areas where the infrastructure is ready.

I got into online services back in 1990 when I bought a 20 mH "turbo" 386 PC with 40 mb hard drive, 1 mb RAM, DOS, and Windows 3.0 for my use at home (at that time this computer cost $ 3,000). A 2400 baud modem, CompuServe membership, and Grateful Med software (for accessing the National Library of Medicine database of medical literature abstracts) enabled me to do some work from home (I'm an MD on faculty at a medical school), access the Consumer Reports portion of CompuServe and check on ACC basketball scores. I used E-mail at work and by 1994 was beginning to exchange some files using the old ftp protocols. If my memory serves me correctly, AOL was functioning as a ramp to the Web by 1994, but Web onramp capabilities didn't come to CompuServe until spring 1995 (considering the fates of each, this provides additional evidence of the value of being there first and the concept of "internet time"). Also around spring 1995 my university developed TCP/IP phone-in capabilities for faculty and staff, but I had not yet installed them. However, when CompuServe mailed me the Web-capable upgrade in the spring of 1995, the first thing I did after installing the new CompuServe software was go to the ftp site of my university and download the university TCP/IP files along with Netscape 1.1. A couple of months later, when I was sure that the university TCP/IP access was reliable, I cancelled my CompuServe subscription.

"The end-result of having @home over the past 4 months is that I'm spending much more time at home without hurting my work productivity."

From 1995 until the summer of 1999, I used the university TCP/IP connection as my ISP. As my kids have grown (4 daughters, ages 13,12, 9, and 7) and the older ones developed friends who used the AOL instant messenger, I subscribed to AOL on the cut-rate BYOA plan solely to enable my kids to use instant messenger too.

About a year ago, my university sent me an E-mail explaining the @home service. They had made an arrangement with Intermedia @home (the cable provider in my area is Intermedia) whereby faculty and staff get the @home service at $5 per month less than the non-university-affiliated subscription rate. The incentive for the university to get involved was to unload their dial-in lines, and they actually promoted it by giving the Intermedia @home reps space, time, and advertisements on-campus to facilitate faculty and staff signing up for the service at work. As my family was in the process of a local move to a new home, I didn't take advantage of the @home offer until late this summer, however now that I have it, I'd never go back to a narrow-band connection. Furthermore, the cost has been small. With 4 growing daughters using the phone, and the time they were spending using the AOL instant messenger, my wife and I were already talking about a second phone line at a monthly cost comparable to @home. So I talked her into @home instead. We're now 4 months into it and everybody's happy with the arrangement. We've found that we didn't need the second phone line (which would have mainly been a modem-line and for some of the kid's phone calls). The Intermedia @home advertisements in my area actually highlight a comparison between the cost of a second phone line versus the cost of the @home cable modem service in a very compelling way.

My university has continued to support the @home arrangement, even to the point of educating faculty and staff on how to identify the university as a proxie server for your Web browser. What this enables me to do is give my usual work login and password (while sitting at home) and access all the material I'd normally have to go to the medical library or be on the university computer network to get. It even enables me to visit scientific and medical journal sites under the university subscription policy. As a result, I'm canceling half of my subscriptions to journals (some at $100 a pop) because I can pull articles up (full-text!!) at home anytime I want them. Furthermore, I no longer have to archive the good articles because I can retrieve them electronically at a later date. It's almost too good to be true.

The end-result of having @home over the past 4 months is that I'm spending much more time at home without hurting my work productivity. Things that I used to have to go to work to do because of needing access to the university computer system or medical library computers can now be done at home. I would probably pay 5 to 10 times a month what I'm currently paying for the @home service I'm getting, mainly because of what it's done to my quality of life. And I'm awaiting cross-ISP instant messenger capabilities with a cat-like smile on my face, knowing that I can cancel my AOL subscription the day it happens and save $ 9.95 a month.

"Brand-name loyalty will evaporate when a better or cheaper product is available..."

Regarding the quality of my @home connection, only twice over the hundreds of times I've used it over 4 months has the service been down and it wasn't out very long either time. I tried the 17 MB test file that someone on this board recently posted to check the transfer speed at my home, and it took 3 minutes (compared to the one MB every 6 minutes I'd grown accustomed to using a dial-in modem).

My Points:
1. Brand-name loyalty will evaporate when a better or cheaper product is available � witness my experience with CompuServe and my anticipation of leaving AOL as soon as my kids have another way to do instant messaging with friends still on AOL. And it will happen quickly, as soon as they're confident the new system is reliable. AOL should be concerned.
2. The incentive that universities and businesses have to dismantle their dial-in modem systems and facilitate their employees getting onto cable modem have been used, and should continue to be used to great advantage by @home marketing. The @home service, combined with proxie server capabilities to control restricted material (requiring login and password) makes it possible to do real (and even real-time) work at home.
3. Many new subscribers will simply replace (or not get) a 2nd phone line with cable modem, making the marketing easier and providing them with another incentive to justify the move to @home on cost.

Among my friends and colleagues where I live, many are changing to @home, not just the technically-proficient colleagues at work but also the non-techie neighbors who want their kids to be able to go to Encyclopedia Britannica online and do research related to their school homework. The non-techies view cable access to the internet as a substitute for buying CDROM encyclopedias and as a substitute for a second phone line. The transition from dial-in ISP to cable is snowballing in markets where there has been substantial marketing exposure and where there is getting to be enough experience with the @home product to generate word-of-mouth praise among friends and colleagues.

I predict a bright future for ATHM.

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