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NorthPoint eyes Europe, shakes up leadership

The high-speed Internet provider is shaking up its management team and launching an overseas expansion, a move that may give the company new momentum in its race against rivals.

High-speed Internet provider NorthPoint Communications is shaking up its management team and launching an overseas expansion, the company said today.

The company, which has trailed behind competitor Covad Communications in recent months, said it has formed a joint venture with Dutch company VersaTel to deliver high-speed Net service in Europe.

Current chief executive Michael Malaga will run the overseas venture, while former US West executive Liz Fetter, NorthPoint's current chief operating operator, will take the helm of the company's U.S. operations.

The moves may give NorthPoint new momentum in its horse race against rivals Covad and Rhythms NetConnections, all of which are competing with the big phone companies and cable companies for high-speed Internet customers.

While all three companies went public at roughly the same time last year, Covad has surged ahead on Wall Street and in the number of customers served. The market is still in its infancy, however. Barely 500,000 digital subscriber lines (DSL) were operating at the end of last year, according to analyst firm TeleChoice. The firm projects that more than 5.1 million DSL lines will be in service by the end of 2001.

DSL, the technology used by NorthPoint and its immediate rivals, uses ordinary phone lines to provide high-speed Internet access. It is the primary technological rival to cable modem networks, but broadband wireless service offerings are also headed for the mass market this year.

The upstart's new European joint venture, dubbed VersaPoint, will launch services in the Netherlands and Germany this summer, the company said. The venture will be funded with a $100 million cash infusion from its parents.

NorthPoint's moves follow close on the heels of a similar joint venture aimed at expanding the company's services into the Canadian market.

Wall Street gave the company's movements an early thumbs-up, sending share price soaring more than 10 percent in noon trading.