An Ohio community bank that's been searching for a way to give customers direct access to the World Wide Web has agreed to buy an Internet access company.

Citizens Banking Co. plans to buy ValueNet Inc., an Internet service provider in Lisbon, Ohio. ValueNet provides local Internet access and E- mail service to 1,000 customers in Ohio.

Citizens Banking officials wouldn't disclose terms of the deal.

Thomas G. Leek, senior vice president for bank operations, said the company has been trying to gain approval from banking regulators for the past six months. ValueNet would become a subsidiary of Citizens Banking.

Mr. Leek said $1 billion-asset Citizens has been exploring home banking products and Internet banking services and decided it wanted access to the Internet. He said Citizens wanted to avoid the software and hardware needed for traditional home banking.

Mr. Leek said the bank ruled out starting its own Internet access system. "Why would you want to start one from scratch if you could buy one?" he asked.

Citizens has 35 branches in five Ohio counties. But Internet access could attract customers from beyond this area.

Mr. Leek said the company has no plan to advertise its services nationally. However, he said he's excited about the opportunities for growth.

"It really lets anyone, anywhere, anytime, bank with us if they choose to-as long as they have Internet access," he said.

Citizens is to roll out its Internet line of products Dec. 1.

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