Atlanta-based EarthLink, an independent Internet service provider (ISP), traces its history to the early 1990s, when Charles Brewer founded MindSpring and Sky Dayton founded EarthLink Network. Each company provided broad consumer access to the Internet. The two organizations merged in 2000 to form one of the nation’s largest ISPs, and five years later EarthLink had 5 million subscribers and 2,000 employees. In 2005 1,100 employees worked in EarthLink’s corporate headquarters on the corner of Peachtree and Seventeenth streets.
In February 1994 Brewer, a Kentucky native with an M.B.A. degree from Stanford University in California, founded MindSpring in Atlanta with thirty-two nonpaying customers. Four months later the company celebrated its first paying customers and by November had joined other Atlanta start-up companies refining their businesses at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Advanced Technology Development Center. Within two years the company reported 12,400 subscribers and 8 employees. MindSpring completed its first profitable quarter in December 1997 with 278,000 subscribers and 502 employees. Five profitable quarters followed, and by February 1999 the company had more than a million subscribers.
In addition to acquiring several regional ISPs, MindSpring grew by providing its subscribers with technologies and services as they were being developed. In 1999 the firm introduced high-speed cable modem access to customers in Alabama and Georgia, launched MindSpring Biz to focus on the needs of small business, and developed Internet software packages that emphasized ease of use. In late 1999 MindSpring introduced digital subscriber line (DSL) services in Atlanta and several other cities outside Georgia.
Dayton, a California native, founded EarthLink Network in 1994 in Los Angeles and moved the company to Pasadena, California, in 1996. EarthLink Network initiated a series of partnerships with such companies as Microsoft to forge broader connections in the ISP market. The company became publicly traded in January 1997 and by April 1997 had grown to nearly 300,000 subscribers. Later that year EarthLink Network partnered with Charter Communications to provide high-speed Internet access.
EarthLink Network’s most effective alliance was finalized in early 1998, when Sprint Corporation agreed to help create a single, unified Internet service, eventually investing a reported $1 billion. EarthLink Network also continued to increase subscriber numbers by becoming the default Internet software for iMac, Packard Bell, and NEC Ready computers. By December 1998 EarthLink Network had signed its one millionth subscriber.
MindSpring and EarthLink Network each developed a deeply loyal customer base, and in 2000 the two companies merged, taking the name EarthLink and creating the second largest ISP at the time, with more than 3 million subscribers nationwide. Based in Atlanta and traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange, the new company offered an array of software upgrades, including improved parental controls, child-friendly Web browsers, updated security tools, and faster connectivity. EarthLink also began introducing such premium services as music subscription and voicemail.
Company highlights include growing broadband services from nothing in 1999 to $400 million in 2004 and the addition of the People PC unit, a discount dial-up service with a million customers as of 2005. In September 2004 EarthLink, emphasizing its expertise in e-mail and intrusion protection, began offering services for handheld wireless voice and data devices, most notably the BlackBerry product by Research In Motion. Also in 2004 EarthLink offered Voice over Internet Protocol, with plans to fully integrate voice and Internet services; an enhanced Web-based e-mail system; a secure private business network service for remote access; and personalized portals.
Since its founding EarthLink has often been recognized for quality of service. In 2004 the company earned highest honors for both high-speed and dial-up Internet services in J. D. Power and Associates’ ISP Residential Customer Satisfaction Study. EarthLink has also been committed to reducing operating costs, and as of June 2005 the company was debt free. For the first quarter of 2005 EarthLink reported a net increase of 13,000 subscribers across all services for a total of 5.4 million customers and a quarterly profit of $33.3 million.