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Broadband agnostic, open access stalwart

Fri, 11/30/2001 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

Google Factor: 18,100

EarthLink Inc., once considered a scrappy ISP with a cult following, has definitely gone mainstream, today boasting more than 4.8 million paying subscribers.

While many ISPs (including a number of them on cable's side of the fence) have gone belly up or are scratching and clawing for their survival, EarthLink has managed to prosper.

So, what has Earth- Link done that the others haven't? For starters, EarthLink is aggressively pursuing broadband, finding ways to offer its services over high-speed cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), fixed-wireless and satellite connections.

While additions to EarthLink's dial-up sub- scriber base appears to be slowing down, the company has managed to grow in the high-speed arena, boasting about 406,000 high-speed customers at the end of the third quarter. Broadband also continued to contribute to EarthLink's bottom line, representing about 14 percent, or $45.1 million of revenue, during the third quarter.

That doesn't mean that EarthLink isn't faced with challenges, though. For instance, the ISP will have to pick up the pace to extend its broadband base to a stated goal of 500,000 by the end of 2001.

Much of that growth will likely come from cable modem subscribers, buoyed by Time Warner Cable rollouts in systems based in Florida, Ohio, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina. By year's end, EarthLink expects to be available to about 11 million homes served by the MSO. Charter Communications Inc. also partners with EarthLink in a limited number of high-speed markets.

Those opportunities in hand, coupled by better margins, EarthLink has already stated that it has placed cable higher than DSL on its high-speed agenda.

Company CEO Charles "Garry" Betty definitely shoots high, and has made EarthLink's target abundantly clear: eat away at AOL and its 31 million subscribers. Perhaps to demonstrate that he doesn't fear his largest rival, Betty has been known to take shots at AOL when the opportunity arises.

Though EarthLink has battled its nemesis for several years, the company now has a prime opportunity to lock horns with AOL on the broadband battlefield.

Of course, high-speed connectivity is just one arrow that EarthLink has in its quiver. The company also offers a home networking set-up via a deal with 2Wire Inc. and is exploring the virtues of voice over IP services.

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