Specifically, the deal brings EarthLink into what Network Solutions is calling its "Alliance Program," in which EarthLink agrees to link its customers directly to Network Solutions' domain name registration. In turn, Network Solutions will give its customers a link to EarthLink's Web-hosting and dial-up Net access services page.
While the deal in and of itself isn't likely to shake up the Internet industry, it is yet another indicator of where the sector is heading. It shows how technology companies increasingly are joining together in the hopes that, ultimately, many small partnerships will turn into big business.
The idea behind such efforts is that, by combining forces, smaller companies can take on giants such as market leader America Online. But the going certainly won't be easy, as AOL also is cutting deals. The major difference, however, is that AOL usually gets big bucks from companies wanting to reach its 13 million-member customer base.
Today's alliance gives EarthLink another avenue to draw potential subscribers to its site. Now one of the largest Internet service providers, EarthLink also is hoping that the NSI deal will help it keep its members at its site, where they can view ads and--ideally--discover the convenience of e-commerce.
For Network Solutions, the deal marks another in a series of announcements aimed at strengthening the company now that it is open to competition. While NSI still has a government contract to exclusively run the most popular top-level domain names, such as ".com," ".net" and ".org," it faces stiff competition from other organizations that are trying to tap into the registration market by offering to register domain names for customers as a value-added service. Some of these organizations offer registry services for free, hoping to draw consumers to their ad-driven sites. Others do it for a small fee.
In addition, NSI's competitors are registering the increasingly popular country domains--such as ".to" for Tonga--as commercial domains. (All countries are allotted a top-level domain name, and many of the smaller ones have joined in business partnerships to generate revenues from the registration of those domains.)
Eventually, competition will become a hard reality for Network Solutions, but it recently bought itself some time when the government extended its contract for up to two years while it proceeds with the highly complex task of turning over the domain naming system to the private sector.