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EarthLink Tests Internet Service Through Comcast Cable System

EarthLink has agreed to test its broadband Internet services using Philadelphia-based Comcast Cable Communications, Inc.'s connections.

The Atlanta-based ISP is the second non-affiliated firm to test its high-speed Internet access using Comcast's cable system. Juno Online Services ran a similar trial last November.

Financial terms of the deal or a time frame for the EarthLink/Comcast offer have not been made available.

EarthLink's service will be offered to Comcast customers in the Philadelphia area by the second quarter of this year. The test run will be the proving ground for whether or not the two companies enter into future definitive agreements.

Steve Burke, president of Comcast Cable, said in a statement announcing the joint venture that test runs of this kind reap benefits for both companies' customers.

"We are interested in learning more about which value-added relationships with ISPs will be most attractive to our customers and look forward to working with EarthLink," he said. "Based on what we learn from this and other trials, we are eager to move ahead with plans to offer our high-speed Internet customers a choice, which ultimately can benefit our business and that of our ISP partners."

Tom Andrus, vice president of emerging technology for Earthlink, said this is not the first time the ISP has entered into such an agreement.

"We had a trial with AT&T in Boulder, and we're doing a trial with Time-Warner AOL currently in Columbus, Ohio," Andrus said. "We're also the ISP in many of Charter Cable's cities."

According to Andrus, if all goes well with Comcast, EarthLink would like to expand to other cities the cable company provides service to. "We really worked on this agreement [with Comcast], realizing that we had a lot to offer each other. Any future agreements will require a lot of work, but we're expecting this to go well."

"Cable is a great way to deliver our award-winning high-speed Internet services, so it's crucial to test and hone those services with as many cable partners as possible," Garry Betty, EarthLink's CEO, said in a statement. "By working aggressively with EarthLink and other unaffiliated ISPs, Comcast has demonstrated the vision and savvy of an industry leader. This trial is the first step in what we hope will be a mutually beneficial partnership with Comcast."

Is this a sign that EarthLink will leave DSL behind in favor of broadband?

"I wouldn't say we're moving away from DSL," Andrus said. "In the long term, we do want to be a broadband provider, but we're still pushing DSL. We want to get to the point where we can offer our customers a choice. A year ago, we wouldn't be anywhere near having a discussion for something like this. It's almost amazing to see how fast it's all changing."

In other EarthLink-related news, Denver-based Inforum Communications (OTCBB: IFMC) announced it will sell its dial-up ISP subscriber base to Earthlink, as a part of Inforum's ongoing efforts to raise capital and return to profitability.

Inforum began notifying its customers last week of the sale.

"We are confident that EarthLink...will continue to provide quality service to these subscribers in addition to all the other benefits of EarthLink membership," Inforum president and CEO Jeffery Mathias said in a statement announcing the sale.



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