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Getting Closer

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A new digital music service from cable television and telecommunications services company RCN is getting closer to a model that makes sense:

    a music-over-the-Internet service that offers unlimited computer-based access to 700,000 songs for $8 a month with free song downloads.

    In deploying the new service with Synacor Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., RCN is pulling the plug on its two-year-old partnership with Real Networks Inc.’s Rhapsody unit, which charges $2 a month more and 79 cents per song for downloading songs for storage and playback on a computer.

    Real, located in Seattle, also has sales relationships with Comcast Corp. and other cable companies; the service requires subscribers to open their own Rhapsody account charged to a credit card.

    In contrast, RCN broadband Internet subscribers choosing the ”RCN Interaction” music service — provided by Synacor’s Portelus system using MusicNet’s library of songs, but marketed under RCN’s brand — will have the cost added directly to their monthly RCN bill. RCN will offer a $1 one-month trial for the service.

    ….Elad Nafshi, RCN’s director of Internet and phone product management, said being able to market and bill the music service as an RCN offering was a key factor in the company’s move from Real to Synacor.

    ”We were not able to get that in Rhapsody,” Nafshi said. ”We’re really trying to sell an integrated product where you choose premium features” in the same way as adding cable TV or phone extras, he added.

    Synacor also helps RCN offer a service in which broadband Net subscribers rent spam, virus, and security software for $2 to $6 a month, also added straight to their broadband bill. RCN is preparing to roll out a online video-game rental service as well.

    Susan Kevorkian, a digital music research analyst with International Data Corp., said the RCN offer is ”very competitive on price, and you only have to deal with one bill instead of two.”

    ….RCN is offering the music service across its national service territory, which includes over 200,000 subscribers in markets in metropolitan New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In Massachusetts, RCN serves the Boston communities of Allston, Brighton, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and West Roxbury; and Arlington, Brookline, Burlington, Dedham, Framingham, Lexington, Natick, Needham, Newton, Somerville, Stoneham, Wakefield, Waltham, Watertown, and Woburn. [Boston.com]

Unlimited access to a large library, the cost added in to your cable bill, and no extra charge for burning songs make this a big step in the right direction in making legitimate digital music “feel like free.”

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