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MindSpring rolls out high-speed Net access

The national ISP rolls out cable Internet access in its second market, but is still pushing its cause to offer service over large cable provider's networks.

MindSpring Enterprises, a national Internet access provider, rolled out cable modem service today in Columbus, Georgia, its second market for broadband Net connections.

The deployment is the latest in a series of announcements and lobbying efforts aimed at providing MindSpring's traditional dial-up customers with a high-speed access alternative.

The company first offered cable modem service in Montgomery, Alabama, in March and has plans to offer service in Augusta, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Panama City, Florida, once Knology Holdings, MindSpring's cable operator partner, upgrades its networks for two-way communications in those areas.

Knology, an integrated service provider, claimed 758 data customers at the end of 1998. The company, which serves 232,000 homes, had 78,000 cable TV customers as of December.

MindSpring would like to pay larger, less-cooperative cable operators to use their networks to deliver high-speed data-over-cable services--similar to those by @Home Network and Road Runner--and is pushing for new laws to do so.

"MindSpring is very interested in offering cable modem service," said Jim Anderson, MindSpring's director of product management for fast access. "But the reality is that almost every cable operator is unwilling to let us use their network, so that's why we're a founding member of the OpenNet Coalition."

The OpenNet Coalition is a lobbying group, which includes MindSpring and America Online among others, that is seeking regulations or new legislation allowing ISPs to gain equal, or "open access," to cable companies' networks. Currently, most cable modem customers must pay for their cable operator's broadband service in addition to a third-party ISP if they want to access AOL or another company's content service.

In the latest development, representatives for both the ISPs and cable operators are set to meet with Federal Communications Commission officials Monday to discuss the issue, according to Association of Online Professionals executive director Dave McClure.

In the meantime, MindSpring intends to learn from its early offerings in smaller markets.

"This allows us to continue to gain experience in the cable modem industry," Anderson said. "Obviously there is a different scale when you offer service in larger markets than Montgomery and Columbus. We are learning what customers want and what it takes to offer a quality service."

Cable modems are one of the primary methods for providing fast Internet access to residential users and small and mid-sized business customers. The company is offering service for $39.95 a month, comparable to competitors' prices.

But MindSpring also has plans to offer high-speed Internet access using digital subscriber lines (DSL), a competing broadband technology. Earlier this month, the company announced a DSL partnership with local phone giant BellSouth and will begin offering service in the fall.

News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.