Your Last Chance For @Home Memorabilia

Hoping to get the last dollar possible for their once-dominant Internet
service provider (ISP), [email protected] 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
[email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] Creditors immediately rebuffed the
sale, saying Ma Bell executives (who served on [email protected]’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
[email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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.”

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