Covad Communications Inc., an Internet-access company set to open a major data center outside Manassas, will help Price William reach its goal of becoming known as the county "where technologies converge."

Covad, based in Santa Clara, Calif., will initially move a technical assistance center into Battlefield Business Park outside Manassas this week with about 30 employees, company officials confirmed last week. Next year, the company will move both its technical assistance center and a network operations center to a 17-acre location at Innovation@Prince William, spokeswoman Martha Sessums said. The high-tech office park consists of 529 acres that the county bought for $8.5 million about two years ago.

Covad's arrival will put Innovation on the high-tech map. The tract won its first tenant a month ago; FM Technologies Inc., a 12-employee company, will build a 16,000-square-foot headquarters there. But the county has yet to attract a conference center or other major tenant that could be an anchor for Innovation.

In the meantime, the county has aggressively built roads at the site and laid fiber-optic cable in an effort to lure high-tech firms.

Innovation is surrounded by high-tech operations--Dominion Semiconductor, American Type Culture Collection and a George Mason University satellite campus. But Covad's arrival is the first large employer that has bit on the county's line.

Covad is said to have made a deal with the county for $1.50 per square foot for the land at Innovation, for a total sale price of about $1.1 million, according to sources.

The county has said it will "fast-track" the permitting process for targeted industries, such as Covad. Neither county nor company officials would comment on any other aspects of the deal.

It is also not known whether the "AOL tax break"--which eliminated the 4.5 percent sales tax on certain computer servers and other equipment purchased by Internet providers that offer their own content--will apply to Covad as well.

Prince William officials and Gov. James S. Gilmore (R) are expected to make an announcement this week, but both county and state officials so far have declined to comment on either the deal or the impending announcement.

Covad might prove to be the next step in helping Prince William emerge from the shadow of Loudoun and Fairfax counties, both of which have been leaders in technology business development.

In the spring, Prince William announced that America Online Inc. would be building a $550 million facility outside Manassas in Battlefield Business Park. Local officials hoped the arrival of a prominent company such as AOL, the nation's largest online service provider, would open the door to other big-name technology companies, which usually settle near other rivals and allies they know.

"It's very important because it is just showing consistent attention being paid to this area," said Joseph J. Contrucci, a Gainesville lawyer and founder of the Prince William 66 Partnership, a local business group. "It's a very positive step. . . . Other states in various areas are killing to get this kind of business in their area."

Covad is a provider of high-speed Internet and network access. The company prides itself on being a cheaper and faster alternative to existing telecommunications providers.

Founded in fall 1996, Covad's initial funding came from Intel Corp., Crosspoint Ventures and Warburg Pincus. The company went public in January.

Covad offers Direct Subscriber Line (DSL) services through Internet service providers to small- and medium size-businesses and to home users. DSL services use existing copper telephone wiring to deliver Internet connection speeds comparable to T1 services at a fraction of the cost.

Covad's network reaches more than 40 percent of all U.S. homes and 45 percent of all U.S. businesses, the company says.

Covad released its third quarter results last week, reporting revenue for the quarter that ended Sept. 30 at $19.1 million. That was a 77 percent increase over the quarter that ended June 30, which had revenue of $10.8 million.

The net loss for the third quarter increased to $54.1 million, from a loss of $41.9 million in the second quarter. That loss is attributed to equipment cost, among other things.

Revenue for the nine months ended Sept. 30 was $35.6 million, compared with revenue of $2.6 million for the same period last year. Financial analysts expect the revenue to be $61.3 million in 1999 and reach $234.7 million by the end of 2000.

During the third quarter, subscriber lines increased 86 percent, to 31,000 lines, from 16,700 lines on June 30.

"They're moving very rapidly into other parts of the country," said Michael G. Bowen, equity research analyst with the Baltimore office of Deutsche Bank. He reported that Covad had revenue of more than the $15.8 million analysts had expected.

"They're growing extremely rapidly. We think that Covad right now is the furthest along of all the DSL providers," Bowen said.