ON-LINE service users in Hong Kong will soon be able to plug directly into the Internet via United States system CompuServe, but will have to cut through heavy red tape because of the company's relationship with its local distributor. CompuServe plans to begin offering commercial customers high-speed T-1 connections to the Internet, plus dial-up connections using the point-to-point (PPP) protocol and other value-added features by November. They will be offered by a new division of CompuServe that will begin trading as early as the middle of this month. However, the services will not be marketed directly in Hong Kong because Motorola Air Communications, CompuServe's local distributor, only has the right to resell CompuServe Information Manager - or access to CompuServe alone. Jean Ng, division manager for CompuServe Hong Kong, said companies in Hong Kong that wanted to use the new service would have to ''establish a relationship'' with CompuServe in the US. The connections would, however, be made through CompuServe's local node. Ms Ng was unable to say if Motorola and CompuServe would rethink their arrangement for Hong Kong on-line service users. Individual users will still be able to access to the Internet through the CompuServe Information Service, which offers electronic mail and will have more services next year. In addition, CompuServe plans to offer public Internet access separate from its consumer service next year at prices comparable to other large Internet providers. Maury Cox, CompuServe's president and chief executive officer, said this move took advantage of the company's expertise in the field. ''This opportunity perfectly leverages the resources and technologies of our Information Services and Network Services divisions to provide enhanced services for both corporate and consumer customers,'' Mr Cox said. However, some people in the industry questioned CompuServe's ability to succeed in this area. ''HKIGS [Hong Kong Internet and Gateway Services] and SuperNet have already taken a significant market share at this stage,'' said Aaron Cheung, managing director of HKIGS, one of Hong Kong's Internet service providers. Mr Cheung said he felt CompuServe would be entering the market too late, and ''will be facing a lot of competition''. This scepticism was echoed by Pindar Wong, product manager at Hong Kong SuperNet, HKIGS's rival. ''I am very sceptical in the nuts-and-bolts issues of whether CompuServe can succeed [in marketing its Internet services in Hong Kong],'' Mr Wong said. However, Ms Ng expressed confidence that CompuServe could succeed in Hong Kong. The company appears to be relying on a range of value-added services to help it win a share of the potentially large corporate market of dedicated, leased-line customers. Among its plans is for the dial-up PPP access to reach 28.8 kilo-bits per second, as well as using Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connections, front-end PPP software, dedicated access up to T-1 levels using frame-relay technology, and security services, including self-administering ''firewall'' graphical user interface (GUI) solutions and full-featured security servers. This may not be enough to distinguish CompuServe from its competitors, many of whom offer PPP access, plan to use ISDN and offer security for dedicated circuit customers. ''Security could be a very persuasive purchasing point,'' Mr Cheung said. ''HKIGS also provides these security-enhanced services if the customer really wants them. We are not losing our edge just because there are vendors who can claim to offer security.'' Mr Wong questioned the concept of a GUI front-end to an effective security system. The real security issue was liability, he said. Security was only a strong selling point if the service provider could guarantee on paper that a client's system was secure - something Mr Wong doubted was possible. ''Corporations buy [security] for conscience. They don't really understand how it works,'' he said. But both local Internet service providers and CompuServe appear to feel that there is room for more competition.