The biggest winner in the AOL-Compuserve deal may be WorldCom, the $4.5 billion phone company you probably never heard of, run by a cigar-chomping ex-basketball coach who isn't burdened by too much knowledge about the industry and his hard-wired, guitar-playing sidekick, who is. The whole operation is run out of a town that is not exactly known as a global telecommunications center: Jackson, Miss.

WorldCom is now the country's fourth largest long-distance company--but it's a three-horse race. So instead of fighting for retail customers with AT&T, MCI and Sprint, WorldCom is creating something akin to its own private global telecommunications network....

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