While IBM and Sears Roebuck & Co gear up to blitz the US with their low-cost Prodigy service, another viewdata venture is getting under way in Houston, Texas. According to Newsbytes, US VideoTel Inc, a start-up with about 100 employees, hopes to duplicate the success of the French Minitel system across the US, and Houston is simply the first stop. And unlike the early approaches of viewdata operators in the rest of the world, the company will initially target its services to businesses only – a wide move, since systems in the UK and France aimed initially at the fireside market, soon found that there was much more interest from the business community than from mums and dads at home. It will offer monthly subscriptions, including Mintel terminals made by the Telic Alcatel SA subsidiary of Compagnie Ge’ne’rale d’Electricite’ SA, at rates of $15 to $18 per month. Southwestern Bell has opened a switching centre at US Videotel’s headquarters on San Felipe Road, a few blocks from the Houston Galleria on the west side of town. Serious joint-venture talks are also going on with Southwestern Bell and other Bell regionals – and these will have got a big boost from Judge Greene’s decision last week to allow the Bells to become middlemen in dissemination of information and services. Initial offerings will be modest, led by electronic mail, bulletin boards, and Easy Sabre travel reservations through the American Airlines network are among the first offerings. There are also gateways to CompuServe in the US and the Minitel system in France. Negotiations are underway with about 50 other information providers, both local and national ones.