Apollo (Pa.) Trust Co., concerned that its rustic community was being left off the information superhighway, launched an Internet service a year ago and became the only Internet provider in its county.

The 124-year-old commercial bank allows customers to hook into the Internet from home for an hour a day, free of charge; non-customers pay $100 a year for the service.

More than 1,800 people have enrolled in the program, some from such far- flung locales as Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, and Mexico. Usage averages 300 calls a day.

Apollo Trust created a bulletin board - "The B" - that includes local news and business listings. When the bank learned that most teenagers prefer to access the Internet from home instead of school, it opened the free service to the town's high school students.

Apollo's bulletin board is the Internet jumping off point, so each time users tap into the system, they see the bank's advertising message. The $110 million-asset bank says it has gained nearly 100 new accounts through the service.

Community service is at the heart of the initiative, said Raymond E. Muth, executive vice president. "Our program isn't just about helping the bank," he said."It's about helping our whole community."

Ms. Semas is a freelance writer in San Jose, Calif.


Officials at Bank of Southington are as puzzled as Wall Street at the meteoric rise in the Connecticut bank's stock price.

The $112 million-asset bank's stock has surged as much as 50% in the last few weeks, while the trading volume soared through the roof. But neither bank officials nor analysts know why. The company is not considered a takeover candidate.

"I really don't have any idea," said chief financial officer Matthew A. Byrne. "Everybody wants to know what's going on. I wish I knew."

Prior to Dec. 31, the stock had been hovering around $9. It had even been as low as $6 earlier in 1995. And normally, only a few hundred shares trade hands on a given day, or even in one week, Mr. Byrne said.

But the stock jumped suddenly in late February, to as high as $19.38 from $12.38 in just five days. About 24,000 shares traded hands on Feb. 28, the date of the highest price. The stock was trading this week in the $16.25 range. - Jonathan D. Epstein

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