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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Internet

Buy a computer, go to Net

EarthLink Network is handing its TotalAccess Internet software to every shopper who buys a computer from CompUSA through January 31.

In a move to snag the holiday season's newest computer owners, EarthLink Network is handing its TotalAccess Internet registration software to every shopper who buys a computer from CompUSA through January 31.

The marketing alliance between the nationwide Internet access provider and the major retailer started November 17, and the strategy has already roped in thousands of new customers for EarthLink, according to William Widmaier vice president of marketing for the company.

To sweeten the deal for CompUSA customers, EarthLink is giving a $50 rebate to those who sign up for a year of Internet service with a $75 rebate for those buying high-speed ISDN Net connections. Customers also get the first 30 days of access free, and EarthLink's set-up fee is waived. If customers sign up online using EarthLink's registration server, the software specifies that they bought the computer at CompUSA so that they can take advantage of the deal.

"It's a target audience, the new computer buyer," Widmaier said. "I can't think of anybody that's doing it. It's also just a great holiday promotion."

EarthLink's old-fashioned software handout is reminiscent of the days when another huge retailer bundled online service Prodigy with hardware sales and marketed the service in its stores, said Bill Doyle, senior analyst for Forrester Research.

"A long time ago, Sears did this with Prodigy before much was being preloaded on a PC," he said. "There are little deals, too. Like in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the Star Tribune had a special deal that they provided through small retailers to sign up people for the Star Tribune online."

Absent of a pact with an hardware manufacturer to preload or bundle, Doyle said, just handing the software out is a fine way to fly. EarthLink does bundle TotalAccess with software and hardware, and it hopes that the plan with CompUSA will give it another corner on the market.

PSINet, a national ISP for mostly businesses, is also expanding its reach to consumers through Internet zones in selected Tandy Corporation's Computer City Stores. Customers can test drive the Web and sign up for PSINet, company spokesman Brian Muys said.

A representative from Netcom, one of EarthLink's main competitors, says the company has no plans to do anything similar to the CompUSA deal in the near future.

EarthLink Network has also announced a partnership with Brentwood Communications in the creation of Internet Power Steering. EarthLink's TotalAccess will be integrated on a CD and bundled with two videos focusing on Internet education and Internet entertainment.