RealTime IT News

Your Last Chance For @Home Memorabilia

Hoping to get the last dollar possible for their once-dominant Internet service provider (ISP), Excite@Home owners are putting most of the company's tangible assets up for sale during a two-day online auction next week.

Wednesday and Thursday are your last chances to buy everything from an Excite@Home coffee mug to the cafeteria where they found the coffee cup, the sad final chapter for a company that did a lot to bring broadband Internet awareness to the mainstream.

@Home was at the top of its game in its heyday. With more than one million high-speed cable modem customers around the U.S., the broadband ISP was head-and-shoulders over its competition, with hundreds of thousands more subscribers than any digital subscriber line (DSL) provider. The only broadband provider close to competing with the company was rival cable modem provider, Road Runner.

The joint venture of cable operators AT&T Broadband , Comcast Corp and Cox Communications , to name a few, @Home became a victim of its own success. Seeing the hefty profits the company brought it, Comcast and Cox ended their exclusive deals with the company, hoping to start cable ISPs of their own.

Pricey content deals with Enliven and MatchLogic, not to mention the purchase of portal Excite.com, wiped out most of @Home's cash reserves and once the dot-com bubble burst, those purchases which were supposed to lift it to new heights quickly became an anchor. Inevitably, company officials filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and eventually shut down.

The first of the Excite@Home bargains began soon after the bankruptcy, with InfoSpace Inc., grabbing the Excite name for $10 million -- a far cry less than the $6.7 billion paid by @Home in 1999.

AT&T Broadband tried for a bargain of its own with a $307 million bid for the cable ISP portion of Excite@Home. Creditors immediately rebuffed the sale, saying Ma Bell executives (who served on Excite@Home's board of directors) set the company up for a fall in the first place to sweeten the pot for the sale of its own broadband division to Comcast.

Which brings us to next week's online auction, where thousands of people will get their own chance to bring in a bargain from the demise of Excite@Home. Thousands of items are up for bid through auctioneer DoveBid, from Sun Microsystems Enterprise 4500 servers to a 1994 BMW 540i to foos ball tables.

DoveBid, which has been conducting online auctions since January 2000, has established a forum that lets anyone join in the bidding process, with no pricey pre-registration fee. No longer the exclusive domain of equipment resellers, anyone with a credit card can register and watch the items come up for bid and find a bargain.

Bidding is conducted over a phone line, so those unlucky souls following the streaming video auction via a dial up account won't put in a bid minutes after the fact.

The knock against online auctions for high-tech equipment is the legions of resellers that converge on these events to find items "on the cheap," using the auctioned goods for their own inventory at a more industry-standard pricing.

In the words of one such reseller, Johnny Peterson from Virtual Rack LLC, the sheer amount of goods at the Excite@Home auction might make it more accessible for consumers; he attended a DoveBid auction online last week and saw some good deals for equipment seekers of all types.

"As with any auction, the prices on some items were very good deals, while others like some of the low-end Cisco Routers were almost ridiculous from a reseller perspective," he said. "For example, I saw a couple of Cisco 2610 routers with a NM-32A in each go for about $1,500 per unit. That might be a good deal if you're an end customer, but as a reseller it's a bit steep. I expect the Excite@Home auction to be pretty good because there is a ton of goods available."

Officials won't comment on the expected turnout, but clearly they are expecting a bigger crowd than the almost 5,000 people attending their WebVan online auction last September. That auction was only for a minor portion of the former online grocer's goods; most of that company's goods were sold at several auctions conducted in the real world. The sale of Enron Europe assets, on the other hand, brought more than 12,000 people from around the world to the DoveBid auction, officials said.

The only drawback is that people have to pick up the equipment themselves, or pay for a transportation company to ship the goods -- sorry no UPS available to deliver your slightly-used Excite@Home pool table.

First-time auction attendees should take a bit of advice from one of the biggest auction sites on the Internet -- eBay. The bottom of every page at the site displays its unofficial motto, "Caveat Emptor" -- let the buyer beware. DoveBid doesn't guarantee the condition of the equipment it sells, nor should they, but that means little to a buyer who expected a functioning laptop and instead bought a $500 doorstop.

Pricing is another worry. Many times, auction prices surge past the price the equipment is worth.

"When end users start bidding, they sometimes tend to pay more than an item is really worth," said Israel Ameh, an equipment reseller at Naija Networks. "As an example, we saw rack-mount servers that were worth $600 on the open market being bought for a lot more than $600."