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EarthLink Adds Cable To Micro Center Plate

Tapping into the marketing power retailers have over new PC buyers, EarthLink, Inc. officials announced a deal Tuesday that puts its cable Internet service on Micro Center PCs.

Dial up Internet service providers (ISPs) learned years ago to pepper retail chains like Best Buy with startup disks in the hope customers would use them, rather than shop around for an ISP. It's a business practice so successful MSN spent millions to offer PC rebates to users who signed up to its dial up service.

Today's deal is only available in Micro Center stores located where EarthLink has an open access agreement with Time Warner Cable -- Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Tustin, Calif., Houston, Long Island, N.Y. and Overland Park, Kan.

Earlier this year, EarthLink penned a deal with Gateway to provide cable modem service to new PC users at a discount, to offset the rising costs of high-speed Internet service. Normally available for approximately $45 around the nation, Gateway customers signing a contract with EarthLink get their service for $41.95 a month, with the first month free.

Brian Kovalesky, EarthLink spokesperson, said retailer partnership programs like those mentioned above, as well as a cable deal with Circuit City, is a definite boon and helped boost EarthLink's broadband subscriber numbers by 72,000 last quarter, for a total of 604,000 broadband customers.

"The retail channel is important for EarthLink and part of our business strategy," he said. "It's been very successful, and cable growth last quarter was greater than DSL growth for the first time."

The 604,000 subscribers is an aggregate number of DSL, cable and satellite Internet accounts.

EarthLink plans to significantly improve its cable modem footprint next year when and if AT&T Broadband opens its network to competing ISPs. Ma Bell's cable division is currently in the middle of a merger with Comcast Corp. , which would create the largest cable network in the U.S.

EarthLink would have open access on two of the largest cable networks in the U.S. when that happens, making its deals with retailers like Micro Center and Gateway more encompassing. Currently, digital subscriber line (DSL) service is the only broadband option EarthLink can offer on a nationwide basis.

Micro Center and EarthLink have an existing relationship retailing DSL and dial up service. It's a partnership officials on both sides are happy to continue. Kevin Flaherty, EarthLink vice president of retail sales, said offering a broadband choice -- DSL or cable -- fits the chain's customer base.

"EarthLink is the perfect fit for Micro Center's tech-savvy clientele," he said.