Time Warner Readies EarthLink Launches

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Preparing to take the next step in its plans involving unaffiliated Internet- service providers, Time Warner Cable said last Monday that it will offer EarthLink Inc.'s high-speed data service on a commercial basis to customers in Columbus, Ohio, and Syracuse, N.Y., this September.

The MSO also said it would offer EarthLink in a "substantial number" of systems before the end of the year. Spokesman Mike Luftman declined to elaborate on Time Warner's multiple-ISP rollout plan, and said more information will be disclosed later this year.

EarthLink's share price rose 91 cents (5.8 percent) on the news last Monday, to $16.54.

Time Warner is preparing its technical and customer-service staff to handle the new service on a commercial scale, Luftman said.

"They've been dealing with the ISP world for some time in terms of Road Runner [Time Warner's in-house cable-modem ISP], so it's not as if this is some kind of quantum leap," he said.

Columbus hosted Time Warner Cable's recently completed technical multiple-ISP trial, which involved 100 MSO and CompuServe Inc. employees.

As a condition of parent Time Warner Inc.'s merger with America Online Inc., the FTC mandated that the cable division provide access to at least two unaffiliated ISPs in cable markets where it also offers AOL's broadband service.

Time Warner Cable is waiting for the FTC to act with respect to its open-access deals with High Speed Access Corp. and Juno Online Services.

In both cases, Time Warner Cable has 90 days to obtain such approvals. Luftman said the comment period for the filing involving HSA and Juno runs through July 31.

EarthLink struck a deal to gain access to Time Warner Cable's high-speed lines last November. It also has similar deals with three other MSOs that have launched or are planning to offer multiple ISPs: AT&T Broadband, Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp.

Charter Communications Inc. also markets EarthLink as its primary cable-modem ISP in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Fairfield, Conn.

Cox is preparing for an access technical trial sometime this quarter in El Dorado, Ark. Comcast has affiliation deals with EarthLink and Juno, and has set a technical open-access trial for the Philadelphia area.

AT&T Broadband, meanwhile, is testing back-office elements such as billing and customer care as part of its "Broadband Choice" trial in Boulder, Colo. That technical pilot involved 300 users over its first six months, but has been scaled back to about 75 users at present. The balance of those participants have moved back to their original ISP, company spokeswoman Sarah Duisik said.

AT&T Broadband's next big test will occur this fall in the Boston area, when the MSO tests out the product on a limited commercial basis and boosts the user base into the "thousands."

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