The Industry Data Exchange Association, Inc. (IDEA), Rosslyn, Va., sent a package of information to its members in late March with details of the pricing and features of an extranet proposed by global telecommunications giant MCI WorldCom, Jackson, Miss. The board of IDEA was close to signing a contract that would commit it to substantial monthly charges, and the association wanted to make sure members were ready to go, said Dave Crum, chairman of IDEA and owner of Crum Electric Supply, Casper, Wyo.

The board hoped to have sufficient feedback from members to make a determination by the end of this month.

The industrywide extranet, now named IDEANet, would allow IDEA members to send and receive data and voice signals and be charged at a flat rate. If approved, IDEANet would be the main route for access to IDEA's industry data warehouse (IDW).

Flat-rate pricing would allow IDEA distributors to increase their EDI transactions without incurring additional transmission charges from a value-added network provider (VAN). Crum called the escalating VAN charges "a tax on our industry," and said the flat rate would allow electrical distributors to be more competitive.

"It's the first time, we understand from MCI WorldCom, that this has ever been done in the world on this scale," Crum said.