EarthLink Tip-Toes Around MindSpring Territory With DSL Launch

EarthLink Network's Digital Subscriber Line launch will be predictably coordinated with MindSpring Enterprise's xDSL offering so the two Internet service providers that are merging don't step on each other's toes.Pasadena, Calif.

EarthLink Network's Digital Subscriber Line launch will be predictably coordinated with MindSpring Enterprise's xDSL offering so the two Internet service providers that are merging don't step on each other's toes.

Pasadena, Calif.-based EarthLink formally announced its nationwide DSL rollout at the Fall Internet World show in New York today. The Internet service provider (ISP) now sells Asymmetric DSL (ADSL) in four major metropolitan areas - Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Los Angeles; and New York City. While up-front installation costs vary from $100 to $200, the service itself costs $49.95 uniformly across the country.

"Four hundred people have already signed up right here at the booth after we have announced the service," said John Ellis, EarthLink's senior broadband product manager.

Indeed, EarthLink's focus on DSL is hard to miss in New York. The ISP's booth, designed with the theme of a movie theater in mind, features a full-sized vintage billboard reading: "Now Playing: EarthLink Sprint DSL."

Prior to today's announcement, EarthLink had already been selling DSL service in several markets with Sprint. Today's launch marks the commencement of EarthLink's solo effort in selling the high-speed service, which still will be branded as EarthLink Sprint DSL.

While EarthLink executives don't plan to pull any punches from the markets where MindSpring sells its own ADSL service, these markets are likely to come last as EarthLink expands the service to 25 top metro areas by the end of this year.

Even if EarthLink does launch its DSL service in competition with MindSpring in markets such as Atlanta, it won't get the same kind of advertising air support that it would get in other markets.

"We don't want to duplicate our ads costs and double our efforts," said Arley Baker, EarthLink's director of corporate communications. "We will likely get together with MindSpring executives to discuss these plans."

EarthLink's wholesale providers of xDSL local loop include GTE Internetworking, Pacific Bell and UUnet Technologies. Some of these relationships get somewhat complicated, since UUnet, for instance, buys xDSL in turn from wholesalers such as Bell Atlantic and NorthPoint Communications.

"We are leveraging their existing relationships with local exchange carriers instead of building our own," Ellis said.

It is remarkable that although EarthLink gets xDSL local loop practically through two pairs of hands, it still is able to keep its costs down and price the service at the industry average. While xDSL is a tariffed service, particulars of its deals with providers such as GTE and UUnet are built around lucrative wholesale dial-up contracts. GTE and UUnet are the two largest dial-up suppliers to EarthLink, which undoubtedly has set the tone for xDSL contract negotiations.

"GTE Internetworking and UUnet will be primarily providers of the DSL service for us," Ellis said.

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