EarthLink beams up new music center

The Internet service provider teams with FullAudio and MusicMatch for a new digital music service that offers both streaming and downloadable music.

Internet service provider EarthLink said Monday that it has tapped FullAudio and MusicMatch to launch a new digital music hub that offers both streaming and downloadable music.

EarthLink said subscribers to its Digital Music Center will have access to a custom version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Through the service, people can download up to 50 music tracks each month for a $9.95 monthly fee or up to 100 tracks each month for a $17.95 monthly fee. The service does not yet offer any burning capabilities. Subscribers can connect to their accounts from up to three PCs.

FullAudio has deals with four of the five major record labels and offers some 75,000 tracks for download. A companion streaming radio service is provided by MusicMatch, which offers both free and paid programming.

EarthLink's new service comes as the digital music landscape undergoes a transformation from services that allow free file swapping to ones that require people to pay for online music. Internet service providers, which already have billing relationships with customers, are considered a natural marketing partner for the music labels and other publishers seeking to charge for content, particularly as customers gravitate toward high-speed Internet connections.

"What you're seeing here is the first of a new wave of announcements we're likely to see of Internet service providers offering incremental services for incremental fees," said Phil Leigh, vice president of digital media research at investment company Raymond James & Associates. But "the real advantage of digital media is going to be for those ISPs that have broadband capability."

Although EarthLink has a total subscriber base of 4.9 million, the vast majority of its customers still connect through a dial-up service. EarthLink said it has 530,000 broadband subscribers.

"What we want to do is get beyond just offering the (Internet) connection," said Mark Griffith, senior brand manager at EarthLink. "We're really trying to provide the content and the application for our customers to have the best of their Internet experience...We look at music as being a killer application for our broadband customers."

FullAudio CEO Chris Gladwin said EarthLink is the company's first partnership with an ISP. He added that FullAudio aims to sign similar deals with other ISPs.

The partnership with EarthLink "really validates our business model," Gladwin said.

However, Raymond James' Leigh said FullAudio's service falls short on the number of tracks that it offers., which landed deals with all the five major record labels, now boasts more than 180,000 tracks, compared with FullAudio's 75,000 tracks.

FullAudio "is not going to be the strongest current that's going to be played here," Leigh said. "The other services offer a lot more tracks, and they can be more appealing to the consumer."