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Flanked by political leaders, a San Francisco company introduced its $199 Internet "appliance" as a tool to help low-income residents reach the Internet during an event today at Buffalo City Hall.

NIC Company, maker of the New Internet Computer, chose Buffalo as the launching pad for its national marketing program to the consumer market, a spokesman said.

"Western New York is an area that has been left out of the information revolution to some extent," said Michael Salort, spokesman for NIC.

In the Buffalo metropolitan area, only 49 percent of homes own a PC, sharply below the average of 59 percent for metros, according to Scarborough Research in New York.

"This is a serious problem, people at the low end of the economic spectrum falling farther and farther behind," said Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who attended today's launch with Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra.

Simpler and cheaper than PCs, Internet appliances are billed as a bridge across the "digital divide" for people who lack Internet access. The devices offer push-button simplicity for e-mail and Web browsing, but lack the power to perform a full slate of PC tasks.

The appliance is already sold for school use and helped launch the appliance in the area, Salort said. Information about the product can be obtained by calling 877-926-8642.

Users of NIC's device can use its 56 kbps modem to connect to the Internet provider of their choice, Salort said. That's as long as their choice isn't AOL, the largest on-ramp company. Technical hurdles of connecting to AOL's network are still being worked out, he said.

Also introduced at the event was a dial-up Internet service costing 6.5 cents a minute from a New Jersey company called BAMnet Internet. The service, which allows users to connect through an 800 number, is aimed at rural residents who currently face long-distance charges to connect with the Internet, Salort said.

For residents with local call access to the Internet, however, the per-minute service would be costly for more than a restricted amount of Web surfing. At 6.5 cents a minute, charges would reach $21.95 -- the amount of AOL's monthly fee -- after about 5 1/2 hours of use.

Only the most remote areas in Western New York are still more than a local phone call from the Internet, said Marc P. Silvestri, president of the on-ramp company LocalNet in Amherst.

Sales of Net appliances are projected to take off, as households install them as a low-tech alternative, or as a second or third Internet connection, Silvestri said.

Founded by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, NIC sells its device for close to cost, CEO Gina Smith said. It can also be set to connect over a free Internet connection.

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