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Can Web features lure people back to landlines?

/ Source: The Associated Press

Traditional wireline provider Embarq Corp. is offering a new cordless home phone that includes Internet-powered features it hopes will help it hold on to customers.

The company, which lost 6.3 percent of its access lines in 2007 — ending the fiscal year with 6.47 million — expects to continue losing them at that rate or faster in 2008.

Embarq began losing customers well before Sprint Nextel Corp. spun it off the local-phone division in 2006, but it remains the nation's fourth-largest traditional telephone provider.

The Embarq eGo, which the company began selling Tuesday, works like a regular landline phone but has a video screen and can hook into the customers' high-speed Internet connection.

Customers can use it to check weather and sports and general news culled from Internet sites, access an online local business directory and scroll visually through voice mail and lists of frequently called numbers.

"We are attacking why would you ever want to use your wireless phone in your home," said Dennis Huber, Embarq's senior vice president of corporate strategy and development.

Customers must have high-speed Internet to use eGo. The handset and a base station that connects to the Internet router cost $130. Extra handsets — the system can support up to five per household — are $50 each. Discounts will be available on eGo in Embarq's retail stores.

Overland Park-based Embarq hopes eGo will keep customers from abandoning their home phones in favor of cell phones or Internet-based telephone service.

Huber said the eGo is aimed at providing customers some of the same content they can receive through their personal computers or cell phones — just quicker and cheaper.

"We, over the past 100 years, have been great at selling people connectivity," he said. "What we're trying to do is add value to that connectivity."

Using the customer's ZIP code, the eGo can provide local weather forecasts and list times of movies showing nearby or help users find the closest pizza parlor and immediately call it.

Product developer David Rondeau said Embarq will continue developing services for the eGo, including eventually some premium offerings.