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MailBug:e-mail sans computer

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Just in time for the holidays, Iowa Telecom is offering a new device it hopes will help its customers make better use of the one of the Internet’s most popular features: e-mail.

The MailBug is a shoebox-sized machine that connects to the Internet using a standard telephone cord and outlet. It permits users to send and receive e-mail without having to deal with the complexities of navigating a computer or the Web.

Iowa Telecom is hoping the MailBug will entice older and rural Iowans who aren’t familiar with computers and the Internet to learn to use e-mail. The company, which has about 500,000 customers and is the state’s second-largest provider of local telephone service, plans to sell the device for $99.95, plus $9.95 a month for service.

“A lot of our customers might not have connectivity to the Internet, are intimidated by the computer, or they don’t have the financial resources to purchase a computer,” said Kevin Stittsworth, a spokesman for the Newton-based company. “We think this is a great alternative for customers like that.”

Similar products that were once sold by larger retailers, including Best Buy Co., have largely proven unsuccessful, mostly because customers who don’t use the Internet haven’t embraced them and others found their capabilities too limiting. The MailBug can only send and receive text. It doesn’t offer a color screen and can’t transfer images or let users surf the Internet.

Those issues don’t trouble Iowa Telecom.

“We wouldn’t launch it if we didn’t think it’d be successful,” Stittsworth said.   

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