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EarthLink Plays the Music

Dial-up and high-speed ISP EarthLink hopped on the digital music train Monday, teaming up with FullAudio and MusicMatch to launch a fee-based Digital Music Center for its subscribers.

The launch of EarthLink's Music Center is seen as a boost for the fragile fee-based music download business, which has been slow to gain public adoption, especially at the service provider level.

Outside of America Online , which has a major stake in the MusicNet premium music service, not many ISPs have rushed to offer paid digital downloads for its subscribers. For the most part, paid digital music offerings have been limited to those offered by the music labels in partnership deals with companies like Microsoft and RealNetworks and the move by EarthLink to launch a standalone service is likely to provide a rare bit of good news for the struggling sector.

The Atlanta-based EarthLink is styling its Digital Music Center as a "label-neutral distribution channel" offering a secure and higher quality option to consumers using the popular, yet questionable file-swapping sites.

The EarthLink service, including the pricing options, closely resembles AOL's standalone MusicNet service. The EarthLink offerings, which is powered by FullAudio, would allow up to 50 downloads for $9.95 monthly or up to 100 tracks each month for $17.95. The company said subscribers would have unlimited access to the downloaded music.

FullAudio has distribution deals with four of the five major recording labels (BMG, EMI Recorded Music, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.

EarthLink's Music Center also comes with a branded Windows Media Player (WMP), which has been customized to allow users to sync their account to three PCs and the option of playing the downloaded music on or offline. The EarthLink player will also shuttle users to purchase music via embedded links to Amazon.com .

Like AOL, EarthLink's service will not allow for the burning of downloads to CDs.

The Digital Music Center also includes the EarthLink Jukebox, built by MusicMatch to offer a co-branded streaming alternative to downloads. EarthLink's offering would piggyback on MusicMatch's existing media player and would four service levels: free Jukebox Basic, Jukebox Plus for a $19.99 one-time fee, free online Radio, and the subscription-based Radio MX personalized music service for $4.95 per month.

EarthLink said the Jukebox "Basic" would be a free version of the co-branded player that allows subscribers to play, rip (record), rename and organize all of their music, including MP3s and audio CDs; The Jukebox "Plus" offers CD burning capabilities and the ability to rip tracks from cassettes and vinyl into MP3s, and automatically add track and album information to an entire library with Super Tagging.

EarthLink Radio would be included as a free version of MusicMatch's streaming radio with all the bells and whistles like customizing radio stations based on music preferences. For $4.95 per month, EarthLink would also sell Radio MX, an ad-free streaming music service that lets paying users to create personalized play lists based on one or more of their favorite artists.