The new service will debut in the Boston and Seattle areas, and more cities are expected to come online by 2003. AT&T had conducted a six-monthof "ISP choice" in Boulder, Colo., allowing different service providers, including EarthLink, to operate over its network.
AT&T Broadband is the largest cable provider in the United States, with around 13.6 million customers and 1.5 million broadband Internet customers. Until recently, cable companies were not required to share their networks with other service providers, unlike telephone companies, which are more tightly regulated. The Federal Communications Commission is expected to next week on how to classify cable Internet services, which could end up forcing companies, including AT&T Broadband, to share their cable modem lines.
But analysts speculated on Tuesday that this deal may be a sign that companies are not waiting for government orders to open up their cable networks.
"We believe this implies that open access is an economically viable business model, and one that will likely be adopted by other (multisystems operators) including Comcast, Cox and others," First Albany analyst Youssef Squali wrote in a research note.
Under the new deal, EarthLink will offer high-speed Internet access, content, applications and functionality. The companies did not release financial details of the deal.
EarthLink signed up with Time Warner Cable in 2000 to offer high-speed service and has launched that service in 24 markets, with plans to launch in the remaining 15 Time Warner markets by mid-2002.